Sunday Afternoon

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Elouise lay in bliss on the sun-drenched balcony, sunk down on her chair with her feet up on the railing and her eyes half closed with sleep and sun. She had a book out - a Marian Keyes - but she wasn't reading it. The book lay open flat across her chest, face down. From this perspective, all she could she of the cover was a gaudy red cartoon-smile watermelon. Elouise wasn't thinking about her book, she wasn't thinking about the lovely sun-drenched summer day, she wasn't even thinking about the barbeque dinner she had planned for that evening with some old friends. Like a love struck teenager, Elouise was thinking about the man in her life. Zach set her heart fluttering - even after all this time. He was tall, much taller than Elouise, with a solid build. The kind of guy who simply emanated strength, support and confidence - a typical Mills and Boon hero. That was where the similarity to a romance novel ended, though. While the masculine heroes in those novels were either outdoor working men or polished, educated doctors, Zach was an artist. Mostly, he painted oil on canvas, and Elouise had never confessed that his paintings made little sense to her. But also he was a poet and an astonishingly good songwriter. Zach had written her countless little poems over the years they been spent together - pressing handwritten little snippets of paper into her hand as she boarded the train. She had lost her mp3 player for an entire week once, had been just about to give in and buy another when Zach presented it to her one morning - completely filled with songs he had written and recorded just for her.

As she trawled through these glamorous, rosy memories of the moments she and Zach had spent together, Elouise smiled and reached out lazily for a drink. The ice cubes rattled in the bottom of the glass as she picked it up and as she brought it to her lips she realised that the only liquid left in the bottom was melted ice. With a regretful sigh, she left her memories on the balcony without her for a moment, put the book down on the boards beneath her chair, and rose to refill her glass.

Elouise would have described herself as 'average', were you to ask her, and were she to answer frankly. From an outside perspective though, she was disarmingly attractive. Slightly overweight, although only Elouise noticed, she was 36 with dark, slightly curly mid-length hair and olive features. She stood slightly taller than a lot of women and it was this height that allowed her to carry the extra weight - with it, she simply looked healthy and curvy, without it she would look under-nourished.

The kitchen seemed very dull and cold after the bright sun and warmth of the balcony. She automatically reached out for the light switch, before realising that her eyes would adjust soon enough and pulling her hand away. She went to the fridge, found the orange juice and poured another drink on top of the half-used ice cubes in her glass. She found fresh ice cubes and topped it up and while she was putting the tray away in the freezer her eyes found the vodka bottle she kept stashed there. She briefly considered adding a splash to the glass, but then decided to hold out until her guests arrived for dinner. She didn't want to be half drunk before they even got there, and she knew that as soon as she had one, there would be no more plain orange juice for her. She picked up the refreshed glass in one hand and headed back out to the balcony to pick up her daydreaming where she left off.

As she stepped out through the sliding door to the balcony, she heard activity in the garden below - ominous clanging and banging of the barbeque and associated paraphernalia, then the hiss of the gas bottle as it was connected. She heard the pilot light ignition click once, twice, three times but didn't hear the whoosh as the gas caught. More clicking, still no luck by the sounds of things. Now fully shaken out of her lovely romantic day dreams, she walked over to the railing instead of sitting back down, hanging right over to see into the garden below. As she did, the man tending the barbeque looked up at her and smiled sheepishly, "Hey El, there you are! It seems as though we're out of barbeque gas. Would you mind running down to the petrol station and getting another, Hun?"

Eloise sighed, put the drink down, and straightened slightly, fixing her husband with a steely glare. "How many times this week have I asked you to check that thing, Robert? I hope you have some cash in your wallet."

Her good mood totally dashed, and thoughts of Zach now horribly far away, Eloise stamped back through the house, grabbed her handbag, and got into the car to get a gas bottle.


Megan stood slowly, pressed her hands into the small of her back and stretched her protesting spine backwards and her belly upwards, counteracting the weight of the baby, then laughed at the typical 'pregnant woman' pose she was doing and relaxed with a smile. She glanced over at her husband on the lounge, but Dalton appeared to be asleep in front of the cricket. He had been giving her a gentle ribbing recently about her waddling, she could only imagine what he would say about the back stretching she had just been doing. With the baby due in only a few weeks, she was finding the physical aspect increasingly hard to deal with.

Chuckling softly to herself, she turned back to the work she had been doing on the kitchen table, readjusting the cushion on the hard kitchen chair as she carefully sat back down. The work surface was covered in tiny baby-related paper cut-outs and Megan was busily pasting them onto an album page, ready for the moment that they had some real baby photos to add to it. At the moment she had a few blurry ultrasound photos that looked more like blobby bits of custard swimming in a dark night ocean, but they were proof of the fact that there was, indeed a baby, so they were going in.

Megan was 32, only a year a husband's junior, and the baby she had been carrying for just over thirty-seven weeks was her third pregnancy. They had suffered through two miscarriages in the past four years, deciding after she lost the second at only twelve weeks that they weren't going to keep on trying, the emotional strain and physical damage was starting to take its toll. Then, late last February she had missed a period and, terrified of losing yet another baby, they had kept the news quiet until late in May, when the swelling under her tee shirt could no longer be easily concealed. She had been confined to bed rest and, as a result, had quit her job as a medical secretary. Finding herself with a pregnancy stretching ahead of her with nothing to do but watch daytime television, she had taken up all manner of hobbies - crochet, tatting, cross-stitch, watercolours and glass etching had all had a run, now she was stuck on scrapbooking. She sat with her head bowed over the oddments of paper and ribbon, her dark hair cut in a bob scraped her chin as it hung, and she pushed it back with the heel of a hand still pinching a paper cut-out of an old-fashioned style baby carriage.

Engrossed as she was in the album page in front of her, she didn't notice her husband standing behind her until he kissed her in the bare spot behind her ear. She jumped, a neatly sorted pile of ribbon snippets flying off the table in every direction, and Dalton grabbed her by the shoulders, "I'm sorry!" he squawked, "I didn't mean to frighten you! Are you okay, sweetie?" the nervous edge to his voice had been there since they found out she was pregnant again, nerves borne of so many prior disappointments. She smiled sweetly to reassure him, and as she stood to face him the hangdog look on his face made her throw her arms around his neck, the baby between them in an embrace. To prove that he or she was still there the baby gave Dalton a good kick, and he bent to kiss Megan's belly. Megan poked the baby gently, "Oi you!" she said, still laughing, "Settle down in there! You need to wait a little while longer, I'm not ready to work out how to get you out of there yet!"


Lawrence had had his eyes on Ariana since he first set eyes on her at the party on Saturday night. So far, he thought it was going pretty well too. He had thought that she had been impressed by his degree - a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Law that he invariably told people was a "Law Degree". He had finished midway through last year and graduated in September, and he considered it the most amazing achievement of his life so far. As such, it ranked highly in his conversation with Ariana. What hadn't featured quite so highly in the conversation was the fact that he had just started a new a job in the city - as a dogsbody for a personal assistant. How embarrassing. At least he got to wear a suit to work, anyway. And at least it was in the city. This way he could at least spend the train ride to and from work every day, holding his briefcase which contained nothing more than a sandwich, an apple and a broken ballpoint pen, imagining that he had a high-powered and very stressful executive position on the board of directors. What Lawrence didn't realise was that, even though this little fantasy played out well in his head, to the others that shared his commute, he was still a 22 year old kid with a cheap suit and a cardboard briefcase. Nevertheless, and never one to let the truth get in the way of a good fantasy involving power and riches, he maintained the dream for as long as he could, and tried to portray this character to his new found friends, Ariana included.

Lying on a bean bag in a corner of his mate Ben's living room, Lawrence surveyed the clutter and detritus that surrounded him. The television was on, blaring a music video DVD to the room at large. The cheap speakers in the discount-brand widescreen television had come to the end of their life approximately two months after purchase, and now spouted a terrible crackling and hissing version of growled and snarled lyrics to what should have been a familiar tune. It didn't matter too much, no-one was paying any attention to the aural abomination. However, the room was far from empty - at least four bodies lay around the floor and couch, in varying degrees of alertness. Ben, the ever-gracious host of the party last night, dominated the couch - head back, mouth open, legs and arms thrown wide - snoring loudly, but not loud enough to drown out the music from the television, unfortunately. Two other men were passed out in the room, one on the recliner and a second on the carpet, neither of whom Lawrence recognised, although he vaguely remembered having a very in-depth conversation with the guy who now seemed passed out on the rug with his hand still in a bowl of nuts. What were they discussing, he wondered, and eventually recalled it had something to do with the possibility of intelligent life landing on Earth and blowing up Microsoft. Lawrence heaved a sigh and hoped he was mistaken in that recollection. As for the fourth body, from Lawrence's position he couldn't see anyone, but he could hear snoring from behind him somewhere, forming a tenor counterpoint to Ben's bass.

The other person Lawrence couldn't see was Ariana. He mentally kicked himself for drinking way too much last night. If he hadn't had the last five or so bourbon and cokes, he would have been able to get her into bed, he was sure of it. Ariana was beautiful - long, pitch-black hair straight down her back, and a pair of the loveliest breasts. Lawrence tried to remember what she's been wearing last night, hoping to catch a glimpse of her through the door into the kitchen, but he struggled and couldn't recall. He had spent a large amount of time looking down her cleavage, but he would be damned if he could remember what it had been wrapped in. Damn shame about those last few bourbons, taking Ariana to bed would have given him bragging rights to his mates for weeks. Months, even, maybe.

Slowly, and with the variety of sluggishness only an A-grade hangover can provide, Lawrence performed a personal physical inventory. He still appeared to be in possession of all his major appendages. He didn't dare try to move them any more than a few centimetres, but upon inspection they all seemed to behave in an appropriately correct manner. He didn't seem to have any sticky patches that couldn't be explained away by alcohol, so he figured that he hadn't, despite his best intention, gotten anyone (Ariana included) into bed. This was a minor disappointment, but one that he was pitifully accustomed to. Lawrence turned his head slightly to see if his neck was working properly, and a light-sabre of sun sliced through the venetian blinds and hit him square between the eyes. He closed them and instinctively reached to his head for his sunglasses. They weren't there - damn it. Normally a permanent fixture day or night, he must have lost them off his head when he collapsed on to the bean bag. He carefully weighed his options - he could sit here with his eyes shut and wait for the light to fade, which could possibly take hours as he had no idea what time of the day it was and whether this was morning or afternoon sun; or could haul his sorry ass out of the bean bag and go looking for his sunglasses. After careful deliberation and a small alcohol-induced slumber, he decided, however foolishly, to try and extricate himself from the clutches of the bean bag.

He started by rolling to one side, hoping to roll right out. The bean bag was obstinate however, and held on firmly, refusing to tip him out on to the floor. Lawrence was nothing if not persistent though and rolled the other way, at which point the bean bag decided to give up - suddenly and reasonably unexpectedly, at least to Lawrence's alcohol-addled mind. He landed, splat, on the carpeted floor, finding his nose in a suspiciously sticky patch on the carpet, and his shoulder hard up against the foot of the couch. His left leg appeared to have taken up residence under the coffee table. If it wasn't for this unfortunate series of events, Lawrence may have decided to remain there until more of his hangover had passed, but the stench from the carpet was enough to make even Lawrence move and, very carefully, he rose to his feet.

Once the room had ceased the most wild of the careening it was currently undertaking, Lawrence stepped gingerly over to the blaring television and punched random buttons through blurry eyes until the noise mercifully ceased. He watched with interest as the picture faded to a single pinpoint of light and winked out, and revelled in the silence that can fall only after a DVD that has been on constant repeat for close to ten hours has been silenced. With this problem solved neatly, Lawrence dug around the bean bag for his sunglasses, finally finding them, bent and with a lens missing, He stared at them, deliberating, and then decided to put them on anyway. Something was better than nothing, right?


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