What’s Normal? is a weekly short story series exploring life and emotions as the lockdown eases. Published every Sunday, this is Part 1 of Story 2. Part two will be published next Sunday.
The television played idly in the background, the pitter patter of rain against the kitchen window, but otherwise, the house was still. Over the weeks since lockdown, Joslyn had adjusted to the quiet, become used to her own company. Living alone had never been something she thought about, and it had hardly mattered when she spent her time flitting between work and various social gatherings. Now, she had learned to enjoy these quiet moments.
In fact, even with the news that shops were reopening – meaning her favourite coffee shop would be ready for business soon – Joslyn found there was none of the usual excitement at the prospect of going out. Something had changed in these last few months, she just couldn’t place what.
The shrill ring of the phone startled Joslyn from her thoughts – she reached for it automatically, heart skipping as she saw the caller ID. Mallory from work. Huffing quietly, she raised the phone to her ear. “Hi, Mallory. Joslyn here.”
“Joslyn, hello! I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time?”
She had been making lunch, actually – Thai noodles – but she simply shrugged and pushed the plate aside. “Not at all. Why the surprise call?”
Joslyn could practically see Mallory’s bright grin, eyes sparkling. Mallory might have been ten years Joslyn’s senior, but she had a kind of optimistic energy that never wavered. “We’re opening back up, what with shops and all starting up again, they’ll need their accountants ready to go.”
“Right..?” Shifting from foot to foot, Joslyn’s eyes narrowed. Outside the rain had cleared, the sun had begun to peek through the heavy clouds. “But why the personal call-“
“Well because your our best accountant, and we need someone to organise the post-lockdown financials.”
In other words, Mallory wanted her to take on a bigger workload. Ugh. Two months ago – hell, just two weeks ago – Joslyn would have jumped at the chance to go back to work. Now, staring down at her uneaten noodles, disappointment settled in her gut. Elbows propped up on the kitchen counter, she resisted the urge to drop her head onto the granite. “The news didn’t say anything about office staff-“
“How do you expect the shops to function without any accountants,” Mallory snapped, and it was so unlike her that for a moment, Joslyn was stunned. Then with a heaving breath as if to calm herself, she continued, “the businesses we work for need us. You’re vital, you know that. Without you, they might as well call it quits and sell every branch.”
It was an obvious ploy – appeal to her pride. Maybe it would have worked on the Joslyn of two months ago, but current Joslyn simply cringed. Rolled her eyes. “It’s not like I have a choice, is it?”
“Not really.” That bright, overly-cheerful tone returned as if it had never left. No doubt Mallory was grinning from ear to ear, knowing she had won. Don’t get her wrong, Mallory was lovely; but that didn’t mean she was exempt from smugness now and again. “I’ll see you fresh and ready to go next Wednesday, okay? I want you in before the shops reopen!”
“Wait, Wednesday? That’s hardly time to-“
The line clicked off, and Joslyn was left talking to thin air. With a scowl she left her phone on the windowsill, staring out at the sunlight creeping through the clouds. She had been working from home for three months – working stats and numbers all revolving around lockdown. Profits, losses, working out a solution to the social distancing rules and how to account for fewer customers. Frankly, if she had been doing all of this at home, why not keep doing that? Sure, it wasn’t as if she could visit any of the outlets across Scotland but – well, it wasn’t as if people were supposed to travel right now anyway.
But, as she had said earlier, she didn’t have a choice. No matter how she looked at it, Joslyn was going back to work. Working from home had been great – but nothing lasted.
Enough feeling sorry for herself. Grabbing chopsticks from the drawer to her left, Joslyn settled down to eat. Maybe with a proper meal in her, she wouldn’t feel so grouchy. The noodles, spicy but with a hint of nuttiness from a spoonful of peanut butter, were an old favourite. She ate in silence, enjoying the white noise from the TV in the next room-
Until her phone pierced the silence for the second time.
Scowling, Joslyn grabbed it from the counter. “Hello?”
“Hey, Joslyn! Guess who’s outside your door?”
Of course. Kalisha. They had only just got back in contact after several years apart – but already Kalisha thought she had achieved best friend status. Yet she couldn’t help the smile that curled at her lips. “Let me guess, is it you?”
“It sure is! Thank God I missed the rain, my hair’s already a mess.”
“Why didn’t you just ring the doorbell?”
“…this is more fun?”
Rolling her eyes, Joslyn meandered into the hallway. Through the stained glass panels, she saw Kalisha’s silhouette, hands-on-hips as she waited. “I’ll grab the keys,” Joslyn spoke, “give me a minute.” Shoving her phone in her pocket, she reached for the house keys on the little table by the stairs. She wasn’t in the mood for conversation, really, but the thought of turning Kalisha away made guilt swell in her chest.
The door swung open and Kalisha all but tackled her – darting out of the way only made her hip knock into the side table with a thud. Ouch. “What the – two metre rule, remember!”
She turned, full lips forming an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I forgot.” Yeah, right. “So I heard the shops are reopening soon. I can’t wait to get my hair done again. Oh and coffee! I miss Starbucks…”
Quirking a brow, Joslyn said nothing. At least someone was happy to get back to normal.
Kalisha was already kicking off her shoes – designer boots, probably worth more than Joslyn’s laptop – and hung her damp coat up to dry. “As soon as coffee shops open, you and I need a proper catch up. Though I suppose you’ll be too busy with work. I wonder when offices go back?”
“I don’t know, but Mallory asked me to go back next week.”
“Ouch.” Kalisha’s smile was sympathetic, dark eyes genuine. “I’d have thought you of all people would be dying to go back.”
A shrug. Hovering there in the hall, Joslyn felt like an idiot – especially given the way Kalisha scrutinised her. Ducking her head, Joslyn made her way back into the kitchen. “Tea?” she offered.
As they set about preparing the drinks, Kalisha chattered on about this and that – honestly, she wasn’t paying much attention. Did that make her a bad friend? Maybe. Yet wrapped up in her own mind, Joslyn couldn’t force herself to listen.
“…but it’ll be nice to go out again. I can’t wait to get back to normal.”
Normal. Sure, normal was nice and all – but Joslyn’s idea of normal wasn’t what it used to be. For her, that had been long days at work and endless nights out and a schedule so jam-packed she was barely ever in the house. She had always loved her busy life – the question was, did she want to go back to it?
The kettle clicked – and Joslyn jumped, nose wrinkling in a scowl. When she poured the boiling water she mustn’t have been paying attention because the hot liquid sloshed across the granite countertop and splashed onto her legs. She snapped back with a gasp, swearing softly as pain lanced her thigh.
“Dammit Joslyn, watch it!” Always on the ball, Kalisha was already mopping up the water. “Is your leg okay? Want me to grab the first aid-“
“I’m fine.” Her jeans were thick – thank God – and already the water had cooled against her skin. Little more than a nuisance, she ignored it. “Sorry Kalisha, I’m all over the place today.”
“Let me guess,” she quipped with her familiar smile, “work?”
Humming an affirmative, Joslyn mopped up the last of the water. At least it hadn’t spilt onto the floor. Discarding the now soaking towel, she returned to the tea. “I just… I guess I’ve gotten used to the quiet life, you know? I never realised it was so peaceful. I like it.”
“Joslyn, Queen of parties, likes it peaceful?”
A shrug, a quirk of one slender brow. “I’m just getting old.” Dunking the teabags into the cups, Joslyn frowned. Never the introspective type, she had always lived her life at face value. Never stopped to think about what she wanted, she just did it. Maybe that needed to change.
Kalisha clasped the closest mug in slender, perfectly manicured hands – she probably did those gorgeous nails at home, Joslyn realised. Blowing on the steam, she said, “being stuck inside is boring, and it’s driving me crazy. I can’t believe you actually enjoy this.”
“Maybe I just never realised I needed a change, until it happened for me.”
“Or maybe you’re just getting old.” She echoed Joslyn’s earlier words.
Huffing out a soft snort of laughter, Joslyn shrugged. “You can’t really say you haven’t enjoyed the quiet. Not even a little?”
Frustration bubbled up in Joslyn – a hot, unfamiliar feeling tugging at her chest. Was it really so out of character that people didn’t believe her? Was she really such a predictable person that the slightest change had people doubting her? Frowning, she collapsed onto the nearest dining chair with a dull thud. “I don’t see what’s wrong with wanting change,” she muttered, “spending every day schedule packed, nights out every weekend, spending money on stuff I don’t even need. It’s just not doing it for me any more.”
Kalisha watched her over the edge of her mug, dark eyes curious. She huffed a little – as if by criticising her own life Joslyn was somehow insulting hers. “Your choice, but I don’t see the problem. I mean come on, half of your job is staying in fancy hotels – and when you’re not working you’re at a party or a gig or something else. Sounds perfect to me. Why’d you want to uproot your entire life?”
“It’s not my entire life, just…” a strangled sound welled up in her throat and she threw up her hands in defeat. “Fine. Whatever. It’s my life though, so I should be able to do what I want with it.”
“Is this some kind of self-improvement kick?” Kalisha’s eyes sparkled with humour. Joslyn didn’t think it was funny.
“No,” Joslyn leapt to her own defence. Then, “yes. Maybe? I just think lockdown has given me a lot to think about, which is good, because it isn’t like I do that often.”
“So what are you going to do? Work from home, become a hermit?”
Now she was making fun, but the fight had left Joslyn. She was tired, and not just in the literal sense. Tired of running around after people, of sleeping six hours a night and never being home. Most of all, she was tired of the way Kalisha was attempting to hide her laugh behind big gulps of tea.
“Look, Kalisha, I hate to rush you out and all, but we’re really not supposed to meet up inside and-“
“And you’ve had enough of me poking fun,” Kalisha finished with a dazzling grin. “Sure, I have to stop by my mum’s anyway. I just don’t see why all of a sudden you’ve had this big realisation-“
“Can we drop it. Please?”
Downing the rest of her tea, Kalisha let herself be ushered into the hall to grab her coat and shoes. She didn’t say any more on the matter – which Joslyn was grateful for – but she still had that knowing grin spread across her face as she stepped into the cool afternoon. “See you around, Joslyn. Try not to make any huge decisions you’ll regret, yeah?”
In reply, she simply rolled her eyes. “I won’t,” she insisted. Why did Kalisha seem to think she didn’t know her own mind? With a quick goodbye, Kalisha darted down the little stone path, and Joslyn let the door click closed.
That frustration still simmered just beneath her skin, but it wasn’t Kalisha’s fault. Not really. Trudging back into the kitchen, Joslyn scooped up her cold tea and leftovers from lunch, dumping it into the sink. She hadn’t eaten all day, but now her appetite was gone.
So what are you going to do? Work from home, become a hermit?
She had been joking – obviously, it seemed that was all Kalisha ever did – but honestly? Working from home was just one of the ways to start this so-called self-improvement kick. She’d thought as much earlier, and Kalisha’s mocking words had only reinforced that idea. So what if it wasn’t what people expected from her? That didn’t make it any less valid. Or real.
But then again, was it sensible to make all of these changes because of an impulse? She hadn’t given it much thought, really, because thinking about things too deeply just wasn’t her style. What Kalisha had said might have been right – she would be uprooting everything. These weren’t small decisions she could go back on if she didn’t like it. This would be an entire lifestyle change.
At the end of the day, though… it was her choice. That frustration she had been feeling, pricking at the surface of her skin, melted away. Finally, she had come to a decision. Her life, her choices. And if people didn’t like it, tough.
Goodbye old, hectic Joslyn – hello new, relaxed Joslyn.