Gum.

“Just hurl me off a bridge please.” Scott’s voice was muffled from the pillow he was holding over his face to avoid making eye contact.

Kelly hit him square in the pillow, just lightly, and laughed aloud enough for him to hear but secretly rolled her eyes knowing he couldn’t see her. Scott had been messaging with a girl from one of his creative writing classes and had misread the situation so badly that he had turned up to a group study session with a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, rather than the intimate date he had though he’d been showing up to. He was, of course, mortified. Rightly so, Kelly though. And it wasn’t as though this was the first time, that’s what was killing her empathy for him.

Scott and Kelly had met on their orientation day and two years later they were essentially inseparable. Kelly studied art and together they had started, but never successfully finished, several comics and had basically the same taste in everything. The only issue with their relationship, which was strictly non-romantic, that Kelly could see were these tendencies of Scott to completely blow out of proportion any interaction he had with girls. Any hint of basic kindness and he had pretty much planned their future wedding. It drove Kelly crazy, and the worst past was his lack of self-awareness or ability to take any of her advice. He would do the same cringy, over the top gestures again and again and when they blew up in his face would come moaning to her in his extreme embarrassment.

Though she’d told him many times, Scott just couldn’t seem to see his actions as anything but standard bubblegum romance. These were real women though, and he was making them achingly uncomfortable.

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Mmrs.

Mari’s routine was meticulous and she had it perfected. At 6:15 she woke up and used the bathroom, brushing and flossing her teeth, and used three bobby pins to clip her hair off to the side across her forehead. Doing this first meant that the hair would be trained and stay flat by the end of her process, exactly the casual looking way she wanted it.

Next she plucked any stray eyebrows that had appeared overnight, her head craned up to the corner of the mirror closest the bright fluorescent light that showed them up best. The inflamed redness of her skin after she had plucked left her a little upset, but if she could avoid the mirror until it went down again she could put it out of her mind.

Next she wiped her face with a cleansing swab and moisturised. The magazines she read told her that most women didn’t start this process until their twenties and regretted waiting so long, so she though that getting a ten year jump on them would give her an advantage once she reached thirty and all of her other middle aged peers were starting to wrinkle. Body moisturising came next, all with SPF to keep her pale skin as white as she could get it. She pitied the girls at school that sat out in the sun all lunch hour baking their flesh, or even worse the ones that dyed themselves that odd strain of orange that seemed so popular with the socialite-worshipping sect.

Weekday clothes, due to the uniform, didn’t have lot of options other than long skirt or short. On both she had altered the stitching red and black instead of their usual white, and a few buttons featuring her favourite bands were pushed into her clip on tie.

Third beer.

“I don’t know, why don’t you call and ask him?” Jon answered in frustration. He was sick of Wil complaining about the way that Henri had left their last conversation and his empathy was growing short. He could tell by the look on Wil’s face that this wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

What Wil wanted to hear, for the seemingly hundredth time, was that Henri was a jerk and that he was better off without him. But if that were true, as he had told Wil over and over, surely they wouldn’t even be discussing it anymore.

Wil and Henri had broken up three weeks ago at one of Li’s parties. Or maybe it was Alex’s, Jon couldn’t remember, all those desperate art parties were blurring together these days. They had had some huge argument over a photo project that Henri was starring in, nude of course, and it had come to light that the photographer in question was one of Henri’s exes. Jon understood of course, who wanted their boyfriend swanning around naked with an ex in their spare time? But at the same time, it wasn’t as if Wil was some paragon of virtue. He himself had been cheating on Henri with his boss to try and book a show, thinking they had some kind of artistic understanding. How was what Henri was doing any different?

“Don’t.” Wil started testily, finishing the rest of his cheap watered down beer and slamming the glass pointedly onto the bar. He didn’t need this kind of judgemental shit from Jon, who was supposed to be his best friend. He just wanted to have a Friday night drink and talk about how shitty the rest of the world was compared to them. Why did Jon always have to get so serious?

SB.

Shel desperately needed an after work glass of wine; she’d been looking forward to this moment all day. As she’d picked Mal up from kindy she could feel the condensation on the bottle bleeding through her handbag and she was slightly ashamed to notice that she was actually salivating. Once she’d settled Mal in to watch a little tv (nothing so harmful about that to Shel, she herself had spent plenty of hours with the tv as a kid and she’d turned out just fine thank you) it was time to start on dinner but the cracking of the bottle was calling her first.

The office had been particularly brutal to be trapped in today. Shel loved her job, and she was good at it, but some days being surrounded by people that needed her input on every little thing was exhausting. Some days she missed her postgrad days in the lab, listening to music or even just the silence of the empty halls. But the memory of eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner for the third night in a row on that wage made her shudder and brought her back to reality. She could get through it, and some days even enjoyed the authority she’d come to command, but everything had seemed to be going wrong this week and who could blame her for stopping to savour a crisp cool glass for a just a few blissful, solo minutes.

A call from the next room interrupted her solitude and Shel put her glass down with a sigh. Mal had been the greatest gift of her life, despite having never thought herself the motherly type, and while he could be a handful she appreciated every second. Even when he was in a needy mood like he seemed to be now.

There be monsters.

The walk home down Peterson Lane gave Ben the creeps. He always tried to find a way around it but if you were running late it really was the quickest way just to cut down the back of Mr Orson’s house and into the backstreet. It didn’t help that it was nearly winter and at only half past four the sun was already beginning to set.

Pulling his collar up around his neck to shield just another inch of skin, as if somehow that would keep him safe, like making sure his feet didn’t stick out the end of bed to ward away monsters, he hurried along with his head down and his arms crossed tightly across his chest.

The bricks had grown dark from the week’s persistent rain and a scattering of what could generously be called moss, and more accurately been called mould, left a slimy, slippery feeling in the whole small street. The stench combined in the air with the unpleasant overpowering smell of many different foods being cooked at the same time in adjoining kitchens and it was all Ben could do to keep down his lunch. Luckily, he had eaten quite a few hours before and an afternoon on the fields ensured that his body would keep down whatever sustenance it could, but the growling for impending dinner it had been doing just a few moments before quickly ceased.

Ben hadn’t realised he’d been holding his breath but the tension suddenly overwhelmed him and he let out his lungs just before they reached the point of bursting. He gulped another huge breath in; prepared this time for his own discomfort. Only a few more houses around the bend and he’d be back in the world of streetlights and people and out of here, at last.

Rainbow giant.

The sun at this early hour lit up the city and made Val felt like she was walking through some sort of fairy land. The steam coming up from the grates shone golden and the eerie silence of the beginning of dawn made her feel utterly alone, but not in the least lonely.

The stairs to ascend the bridge were painted pink some time ago and were beginning to flake, revealing the dull grey metal below, but Val didn’t take much notice and instead counted the graffiti on the way up as she always did. The night always brought new additions to the well loved collection and she smiled as she noticed a circle of iridescent mushrooms painted hurriedly, leaving neon streaks below where they hadn’t dried in time.

Crossing over the river the new day’s rays continued to make a blinding rainbow of the city ahead. The reflection of the burning mirrored windows in the water glowed and the fog still lifting from the cold early hours hung about as if it too couldn’t yet part from watching the beauty of the morning unfold.

A cycler zoomed past to her left, the music blaring from the rider’s headphones so loud it left the echo of a beat long after their image had disappeared into the distance. Val quickened her pace a little in subconscious response, a sense of urgency filling her up and propelling her onward as if the nearing of the skyscrapers was drawing her forward as quickly as it could. Its magnet power, which drew so many to take their chances locked in its winding streets, wasn’t lost on even those who had been there for a while. If anything, its effect was compound, drawing them closer and closer into the belly of the lit up beast.

At this time.

Cey opened the door the fridge and closed it again for the second time in half an hour. Her eyes searched the kitchen for anything she could conceivably snack on but nothing was drawing her attention. Her roommate had half a frozen pizza, she knew from her last unsuccessful foray into the kitchen, but she was too lazy to turn on the oven or find a pan.

The real problem wasn’t hunger, but a heavy dose of apprehension causing her to seek distraction. Exams had finished last week and Cey was awaiting an email with her final results, the results that would dictate whether she could accept her early acceptance into her postgrad and put off real work for another year or two. The next few years of her life were only a refresh away, and she couldn’t wait by the laptop anymore. She’d deleted the mail app from her phone entirely to avoid her fingers constantly reaching for it and making sure the only way she could check would be on the actual computer; at least one more barrier between her sanity and her account. But nothing was working. No matter how she tried to distract herself, her mind kept returning to the multitude of scenarios in which her life plans may about to be torn apart.

So far today Cey had cleaned the bathroom, washed her sheets, baked some muffins (who was she becoming?!) and half watched a movie while distractedly looking at nothing in particular on her phone. There was nothing else for it, she was going to have to resort to her least favourite activity. She was going to have to go for a run to get her mind off it. Disgusting.

Sports bra on, shoes laced, she refreshed one last time. And there it was.