The kettle hissed and clicked, the bubbling inside subsiding as the heating elements turned off. With a tut of frustration at the stereo, Tony left it and went to the kitchen. He poured the freshly-boiled water into his tea mug, inhaling the wonderful camomile fragrance as he did.
“Perfect,” he said to himself as he replaced the kettle. Humming a little tune he dug out some biscuits and put them on a plate, before taking them and the tea into the next room. On the way past he headbutted the light-switch, sending the kitchen into darkness.
Now the only light came from the reading lamp that stood behind his armchair. He put the refreshments down on the side table next to it, tilting the mug around so the handle was easy to reach while he was sat down.
“Well,” he said, “almost perfect.” He went back to the stereo and squinted at the controls in the dim light. After some jabbing about it started playing, making him wince at the rock music coming out of it. “None of that tonight, if you don’t mind.”
A few clicks and it had spun round to a classical CD. Gentle piano tones filled the flat, and Tony sighed. For a few moments he stood in place, air-conducting with his eyes closed as he fell into the music. Then he clapped his hands.
“Now that’s perfect.”
Heading back to the armchair, he settled in under a blanket. Background music, no light but the one to read by, a fresh drink and some snacks, and a choice of three books.
Tony settled down to enjoy his perfect Sunday evening.
Just as he reached for the book, his phone rang.
“No,” he said flatly. He glared at the phone, off on the far side of the room. It buzzed and glowed in the dark, but he didn’t move for it. He didn’t move at all until it stopped, and then he went back to picking up his book.
When he opened the first page, the phone rang again. With gritted teeth Tony started trying to read, but his eyes didn’t move. Not until the phone had stopped ringing at least.
He’d gotten to the bottom of the first page before it rang a third time.
Tony snapped the book shut. “Oh, come on! It’s nine o’clock on a Sunday. Who the hell needs to talk to me at this time?”
Muttering and cursing he got himself out of his reading den and stormed across the room. ‘3 missed calls’, his phone screen said. ‘Mum’, it also said.
“No voice mail though. I’m not calling back, if it’s that damn urgent she can–”
On cue, the phone rang again.
Tony rolled his eyes and rubbed his eyebrows as he answered. “Hello? Yes, hi Mum. What’s wrong?” The crackling sound of his mother’s voice echoed round the flat along with the piano music. The more she talked, the lower Tony’s shoulders sunk. “Seriously, Mum? You’re calling me about that now? Well, yes, I get that you need to know what we’re doing, but that’s three weeks away. Can’t it wait until tomorrow evening? No, yes, of course no one’s busy on a Sunday evening, but…”
Well, that was the point. Tony had chosen today for his self-care session exactly because no one was doing anything. No ‘fear of missing out’, no friends pestering, no restless feet. Sunday evening; everything was shut, everyone had worked tomorrow, everyone was spent after the weekend.
So why was he still on the phone to his mother?
“Look, Mum, I can’t talk now. No, I don’t have a date over, I’m… running a bath. Need to stop it overflowing. No, if I leave it till later it’ll go cold, and that would be a waste. No! I’m not talking to you while I’m in the bath. Because I’ll be in the bath! I don’t care if you can’t see me, you’ll still know. Okay, as a kid maybe, but things have changed since then. Look, Mum, I’ll call you on my lunch-break tomorrow, all right? I promise. Okay, love you. Loves. Bye.”
Tony jabbed his phone screen so hard his fingernail cracked. “Stupid things. The only time in my life I miss not having a wired phone. They were so much more satisfying to hang up.”
Setting his phone to silent, Tony went back to his reading den.
The mood had certainly been broken, so he started by picking up his tea mug. A few sips of camomile would make everything better again–
Halfway to his lips and his phone buzzed.
Tony jumped, throwing camomile tea all over his blanket and armchair. “Son of a –” Hissing in pain Tony dropped the mug onto the side table, pushing the plate of biscuits off as he did. He darted into the kitchen for the tap, and rammed his knee into the cupboard as he misjudged the distances in the dark. “Seriously!?” He fumbled for the tap and spun it on, rinsing the hot drink off his hands.
When his hands stopped aching he dried them off and went to see what his phone had done. A social media message, which had now erupted into a whole thread. Some drama amongst his friends by the looks of it.
“I. Don’t. Care,” he said through gritted teeth. This time he turned the phone off completely, not trusting it not to have some other stupid programme that bypassed the ‘silent’ mode.
Tony went back to sit down again. One look at the blanket was enough to remind him that it was all sodden wet. He ran a hand down his face, and felt stupid for having to fight off tears. All week he’d been planning this, and he’d brought the tea especially.
“Okay,” he said at last. “Deep breath. This weeks a right off, but I can still relax. I’ll just go and read in bed. Try this again next Sunday.”
Feeling even more stressed than when he’d started, Tony went over and clicked the light on. He was halfway back to the stereo when the doorbell went.
“Are you for real right now!?” He jabbed at all the stereo control buttons, then stormed over and threw the front door open. “What!?”
Ellen was stood on the landing, with Jason and Eric pacing further down. “Oh my god, Tony, thank god you’re awake. We weren’t sure but then your light came on. Can we come in?”
Ellen was of course halfway through the door when she asked, so Tony just waved her through with a strained grin. “Of course. Make yourselves at home.”
The other two followed, and now the flat was full of noise.
“Have you heard the drama that’s kicking off?”
“Well, Kitty started it.”
“No, mate, Leonardo’s to blame.”
“No way, man. It was Lisa, she’s at the bottom of all of this.”
“But, either way,” Ellen said, waving the other two quiet and turning to Tony in the doorway. “Have you heard the news?”
“Yes,” he said. The only news he was interested in was that it was his night off, but no one else seemed to have heard that.
“So, basically, all this drama is going on in our house. Can we chill with you for a bit while they sort it out? I mean, we might be needed back there at any moment to patch things up.”
“Or help one of them pack.”
No. Get the hell out of my flat and leave me in peace. There’s a reason I didn’t join in with the flat-share, even though it means all my cash goes on rent. This is a one-bedroom place, there’s not enough room for four of us. And if Kitty’s involved this is going to take all night. I need to sleep damn it, I have work tomorrow.
But none of that made it past his lips. He’d lied to them about his salary for a start, so they all thought he was living alone because he could easily afford it. None of them knew he hit red in his bank account pretty much every month. It was worth it for the peace though.
All the peace he wasn’t getting tonight.
“I’ll make drinks,” he said as he fought back tears. The others shouted their orders through as he went, and when he was out of sight he wiped his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Dude!” Eric cried out. “Your seat’s wet!”
“Sorry,” Tony called back. “You made me jump when you knocked on the door, I spilt my drink.” His attempt to guilt-trip them didn’t work, and none of them called an apology. All he could hope was that it would keep them out of his seat at least. There was a whole sofa for them, for pity’s sake.
As he plodded around the kitchen the others started gossiping again. Their voices rose and fell with the drama, but Tony’s blood pressure just kept rising. It wasn’t even nine thirty, but all he wanted was to go to bed.
I can’t do this, he thought as he leant on the counter. I can’t stay here all night with them. And I can’t get them to leave.
There was only one option left then.
With a brief, wicked grin, Tony took the rest of his biscuits and tossed them in the bin. “Hey, guys?” he said as he went back into the main room. “I’m out of snacks. If we’re making a night of it, do you want me to go and get some more?”
“Is anywhere open?” Jason asked.
“There’s a corner shop just down that way. They’ll still be open, and they’ve got some good stuff.”
“Oh, angel,” Ellen said, “would you mind?”
“Of course not. Drinks are in the kitchen if you want to finish them up. I won’t be a sec.”
Tony fought down the smile as he grabbed his phone, wallet and house-keys. On the way to the door his eyes fell on the book he’d opened, but there was no helping it. It would make a valiant sacrifice. Until next week, my trusty friend.
Tony stepped out into the night and clicked the door shut behind him. Peace again.
It took him ten minutes to get to Victoria’s house. He hated knocking so late, but he was leaving his phone off in case Ellen had noticed that he was still gone. Rapping his knuckles on the front door, he stood back and chewed his lip as he waited.
The door opened and a tall, greying man stood there. “Yes?” he barked. “What do you want?”
“Sorry to disturb you. I’m a friend of Victoria’s, I was wondering if I could have a word with her.”
Victoria’s father grumbled and went back in, closing the door behind him. Tony was happy waiting outside in the quiet, although he could hear the muffled conversation going on behind the glass.
“Seriously, Dad, I’m not a teenager. You don’t have to vet my visitors.”
“Well, if you’re living in my house–”
“Oh come on, you know that’s not a choice. Stop being a pain about it.” Victoria threw the door open with a scowl, but her face lit up the second she saw Tony. “Tony! Hey, mate, what’s up?”
“Sorry for the late call,” Tony said. “It’s just…”
“More drama with the other crowd?”
Tony laughed. “How did you guess? Yeah, it’s kicking off in a big way.”
“Ouch. How can I help?”
“Well, my flat’s been… occupied, I guess. I know this is a big ask, but could I stay here tonight?”
Victoria broke into a smile and stepped outside. “Of course you can.” Standing on tiptoes she reached up and gave Tony a hug. “Can you see why I’ve never wanted to be introduced to that lot now?”
“You know, I really don’t blame you for that. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great and all but…”
“But not this late on a Sunday night?”
Victoria let go and lead him inside. “You’ll have to sleep on my floor I’m afraid. And I don’t have much in the way of entertainment. Other than books, that is.”
Tony’s face lit up. “Actually, that’s sounds perfect.”