stripper on her way to work in a call centre. I didn’t care. I didn’t really feel anything. My brain was so full of so much, I couldn’t do anything but sit on the bench, try to ignore the splinters in the backs of my thighs and make occasional squeaking noises. I wondered if there was some terrifying astrological event I didn’t know about, if all Capricorns were going through something equally traumatic, but it just wasn’t possible. Kate Middleton was a Capricorn ? there would have been something on the news if her life was turning as all-encompassingly shitty as mine. There would have been a tweet.
Stretching out my fingers, I stared at the backs of my hands as though I had a laptop in front of me and tried to switch into work mode. I was best in work mode. If I were still an employed, functioning member of society and my shambles of a life was a campaign, how would I pitch it?
The biggest problem was the sheer number of problems. I didn’t have a job, I hated my flatmate, my mum hated me, I was in love with my best friend, my best friend was not in love with me, and on top of everything else, even when you peeled away those key issues, I had absolutely no life. Not a single quirky characteristic that could be spun into an adorable side project. As a brand, I was less desirable than Skoda; even I would struggle to spin me. But it wasn’t impossible ? I needed rebranding. All the successful companies struggled at some point. Even Apple nearly went bankrupt once. And if someone could make Old Spice cool again, I could certainly save myself.
But what was the Tess Brookes brand?
This was why I’d never had an online dating profile ? it was too hard to describe yourself. I was loyal, conscientious, creative and logical. I could always see the solution to a problem; I always knew how to make a client happy. Unless the client was me, apparently. Visually, I didn’t have a signature look unless you counted bad hair and massive boobs. (Hopefully no one did.) There was no one thing that would make someone sit back and go, ‘Oh, that’s so Tess.’ I didn’t have a favourite band, a favourite book; I dipped in and out of whatever was on the TV when I turned it on. I could describe every single demographic out there, I could tell you what made someone buy Coke over Pepsi and then switch back again, but I couldn’t tell you whether or not I preferred polka dots over stripes. I knew too much about everyone else and nothing at all about myself. How could I convince someone to buy me when there was nothing to buy?
‘There you are.’
I looked up to see Charlie striding along the edge of the pond, a frown on his face. His pretty, pretty face.
‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’
‘To be fair, I didn’t get that far.’ I glanced around. I wasn’t more than five minutes away from the pub. I was sad, but I was also very lazy. ‘You missed an awesome scene.’
‘I know, I heard. I was in the gents.’ He sat down beside me, took off his jumper and draped it round my shoulders. ‘But afterwards you missed Amy grabbing hold of the baby and singing “Circle of Life”, so I think we’re square.’
‘Jesus, I’ve only been out here half an hour,’ I laughed, trying not to be upset that I’d missed what sounded like an incredible Lion King homage. I did love a Disney movie. There! That was something I knew about myself. I was a twenty-eight-year-old unemployed single woman who loved animated movies made for children. If we were at work, I’d be trying to sell me some cat food and a lovely cardigan about now. Maybe I should just change my name and run away ? that would be a pretty decent rebrand.
‘Well, I was worried about you,’ he said, nudging me with his shoulder. ‘Been a shit week, Brookes. How are you still sober?’
‘Didn’t bring any booze.’ I waved my empty hands at him. ‘Schoolboy error.’
‘Thankfully’ – Charlie produced a half-bottle of vodka from behind his back ?