I have to get home

She rehearsed the words over and over again when she got back to her flat.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” he’d asked, and she’d said “No, I really have to get home.” Just that: nothing more. Not a hint of flirtation, of regret, of anything which might possibly leave an opening for another time. For another chance. It was over in a moment, so quick that she could hardly believe it had happened.

Could she really have been so awkward, so horribly gauche? Could she have got to twenty-two with so little experience of managing these things? He’d never dream that’s what it was. He’d never guess that she had been waiting and hoping for so long that when the moment finally arrived other words came out instead of the ones she meant. The ones she had whispered to herself so often when she lay awake in the middle of the night thinking about him.

It had come out of the blue, that was the trouble. They had left the office at the same time and he’d told her he was going to the theatre, that he’d got a spare ticket, and she’d smiled. Then he’d said it – “Are you sure you don’t want to come with me?” – and she thought he’d meant it too, that he’d hoped she’d say yes, even if it was only so the ticket wouldn’t be wasted.

But something had shut fast in her mind then, like it had when she was younger and the big boys had wanted to touch her and she’d said “No, I really have to get home.” When she thought about it now it made her want to cry, because she hadn’t meant it then either and she still felt guilty that she hadn’t said it loud enough to stop them.

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