Stuck On You- Portia MacIntosh (Digital Sample)

Read on for an extract from ‘Stuck on You’ by Portia MacIntosh.

Stuck On You

Portia MacIntosh

Chapter One

It doesn’t matter how many times you break up with someone, it never gets any easier, does it?

While I’m not actually sure whether or not there is a good way to break up with someone there are, without a doubt, a million terrible ways to do it.

Dumping someone by text – that has to be the worst one, right? Text, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or any other kind of written digital communication is about as low as you can go. The absolute coward’s way out. And, sure, a phone call is better than a text but only in a similar way to how a broken finger is better than five broken fingers.

Break-ups must always be done in person, that’s just the way it is – they should probably make it the law, which might sound extreme, but I’m sure it would cut down on a whole host of angry follow-up crimes. I know a guy who got his car windscreen smashed after breaking up with a girl over e-mail – and I’d be tempted to say he deserved it.

Still, it’s not enough to simply say it to a person’s face, you have to say it right. If you’re wanting to do it as gently as possible there are many little sayings you can reach for. A classic ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ is a fine example. It’s a way to take full responsibility without saying anything negative about your dumpee – of course, we all know if it were true you wouldn’t be breaking up with them in the first place, but still, it’s a way to do it without actually telling the other person what you think is so wrong with them that you don’t ever want to see them again.

‘I think we’re better as friends’ or ‘I don’t want to ruin our friendship’ are other ways to try and edge away from things being romantic. Who the hell stays friends with an ex though, seriously? I honestly can’t think of anything worse than trying to stay buddies with someone who has seen me naked. While we’re making these break-up laws, perhaps we should draft something about how exes have to cease to exist, or at the very least move to a different country, after a break-up. I’m sure the world would be a much better place if we could all agree on that.

If I ever decide to get out of the art business and wind up in politics, I’ll start some kind of Ex-it movement where, if you want to leave a romantic union, one of you has to go and live abroad or something.

‘Hi, Sadie.’ I hear a bright, excitable voice coming from behind me. It snaps me from my thoughts. I was miles away. I guess I’m so used to sitting in noisy bars these days I don’t find it all that hard to let my mind wander.

I turn around to hug someone who clearly has no idea they are about to get dumped. This one is going to be an Ex-it Remoaner, I can tell.

‘Hello,’ I say with an equal, although completely put-on, enthusiasm. ‘Take a seat, I’ll grab us a couple of drinks.’

As I gently push my way through the crowd in the busy Belgravia bar I’ve been drinking alone in for the past thirty minutes it does cross my mind whether or not I’m doing the right thing, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t feel as if I have any other option.

So I buy our drinks, I sit down at the table, I take a deep breath and I give one of my break-up speeches – perhaps my best one yet. I allow myself to think this might actually be a straightforward break-up, until…

‘But things were going so well.’

Oh, God, I can’t handle those sad eyes. I was deluded to think this would be fine, because there’s always a ‘but’…

‘I know they were,’ I lie. I shift uncomfortably in my seat. ’It’s just, you know, things are so busy with work, as I said – no one has time for relationships at the moment.’

‘But we have to make time, otherwise no one would have relationships at all, no one would have kids, the human race would die out!’

I mean, what can I actually say to that? I’m kind of over a barrel. On the one hand, things are really hectic at work. On the other hand, working in the art industry is hardly comparable to people like doctors and firefighters who work crazy hours and still find time to have families. I’m going to have to change strategy.

‘It’s not you,’ I insist.

‘Oh, come on, don’t give me that. How often do we women have to hear that bullshit?’ she replies with a roll of her eyes.

Once again, she’s got me there.

I take a deep breath and psych myself up for my next play.

‘Listen to me, there is nothing wrong with you,’ I insist. ‘You are a beautiful, caring, intelligent young woman.’

‘If I’m so wonderful then why is he having you break up with me instead of doing it himself?’

I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s because he’s started having me break up with all of his short-lived relationships.

‘You can do so much better,’ I tell her honestly. ‘Seriously.’

She sighs, as though she’s resigned herself to what’s happening. Well, when someone sends one of their employees to break up with you, they clearly don’t care that much about you, do they? She seems more frustrated than she does upset, and I totally feel for her. When you’re dating, and things don’t work out, it’s always disheartening, even if you aren’t head-over-heels in love.

‘Yeah, well, so can you,’ she replies. ‘I highly doubt it is in your job description that you have to break up with women for your boss.’

And she’s right again. It’s a shame he’s dumping this one; she really is intelligent. He usually dates models, and while the stereotype that they’re all dumb isn’t exactly true, it isn’t always exactly false either.

‘I’m really sorry,’ I tell her. ‘And he is too. I’m here because he didn’t want to upset you.’

While it may be the case that I have to do whatever my boss demands of me if I want to be able to keep paying my bills, it has crossed my mind whether or not I should be protesting against having to break up with women for him, but I soon realised that I do a much better job of it than he does anyway, so it’s probably for the best. It was my boss who got his car windscreen smashed by an angry ex, in case you haven’t guessed. At least I can be tactful and gentle. And if I ever do get lucky enough to meet a man I like, and a time comes when I might need to dump someone for myself, at least I’ll be well-practised.

‘There’s something wrong with him,’ she tells me. ‘He has intimacy issues.’

I’m absolutely certain he does.

My boss is the famous portrait photographer, Damian Banks. Well, he’s famous if you know portrait photographers. So, while he’s definitely met and hung out with Harry Styles, I doubt their fanbases are going to have any crossovers any time soon.

Damian is thirty-five years old. I’d say he was newly single were it not for the fact that he probably wouldn’t have considered himself taken during the time he was dating this woman anyway.

If I were to speak ever so slightly in defence of Damian, his high-profile job has left him wondering who he can trust. On the other hand, he does lap up the attention.

Damian has models constantly throwing themselves at him, bombarding him with risqué pictures, showing a keen interest in him. He doesn’t know who is an opportunist hoping to be shot by the great Damian Banks and who is actually genuinely interested in him, but the fact they are all models isn’t lost on him. Eventually, he decides all of his dates have an ulterior motive and that’s when he dumps them. Or that’s when he gets me, his assistant, to dump them anyway.

‘Are you OK?’ I ask.

‘Oh, I’ll be fine,’ she says. ‘It’s you I worry about, Sadie. Damian doesn’t value you. He doesn’t value anyone. The only person Damian Banks cares about is Damian Banks.’

What can I say? She isn’t wrong.

‘Stay and have a drink with me?’ she asks. ‘I’ll get us a bottle of something. I can start the healing process right now.’

I smile. This is always so much easier for me when they don’t cry. Some girls will cry, beg me – as though I can do anything about it – one of them even flirted with me once. No idea where she thought that would get her.

‘OK, sure,’ I reply. ‘I’ll just nip to the loo.’

I fight my way through the crowd to get to the other side of the bar where the toilets are. It’s busy here tonight – as always. The place is overflowing with a mixture of cool arty types and high-flying business execs. It seems like a weird combination, but the two crowds aren’t all that different. You’re not going to find some creative, fresh off the train, who has come to London hoping for their big break in the art world. Any arty type in here is already a big deal. Already a businessperson. They just don’t have to wear a suit. And then, of course, there are people like me, who work for the kind of person who belongs here, and the occasional girl who would get to come here with people like Damian. It only feels right to me that I give them their marching orders here, allowing them one last taste of the Damian Banks lifestyle. Plus, this is Damian’s local, sandwiched somewhere between his apartment and his office, so it’s the easiest place for me to complete my unorthodox overtime.

As I wash my hands, I look at myself in the mirror – I mean really look at myself. How the hell have I ended up here? How is this my life? Something must have gone so wrong, somewhere, if the closest thing I have to a love life is dumping people for my boss.

I did everything I thought I was supposed to do, to land myself my dream career as an art curator, and everything had been going so well. I left the tiny northern seaside town where I grew up, I went to university where I got my BA in art and history, then I moved to London to try and bag myself a job. The problem was that it is such a competitive industry, so I had to work my way through a variety of jobs, some only loosely related to what I wanted to do, but it all felt like progress. Still, I didn’t feel as if I was getting anywhere until I saw the job listing seeking an assistant for ‘the great Damian Banks’ – to give him the full title people so often refer to him by. I was blown away when I got the gig. Little did I know back then that I would only be assisting Damian with his private life, because his working life has been very much absent recently.

I look into my own eyes in the mirror, narrowing them as I mentally tell myself I can do better. I can find a better job. If I had more time I could probably try and have a love life too. I’m only thirty-three, that’s still young, and I take pride in my appearance. My long, slightly wavy, honey-blonde hair passes my waist, in a sort of arty, boho way. As for my style, well, I’m just a bumpkin managing to pass as a cool wanderling. I fit right in here, with the cool art kids, but only in the sense that everyone looks so individual, so no one looks uncool. Everyone here looks as if they travel the world, for fun, probably on their parents’ money. Of course, I know that’s not true for me, but I do my best to have my own look. My eccentric outfits are mostly pulled together from items I picked up in vintage or charity shops. I’m no stranger to an Oxfam, with a keen eye for spotting a rare work of art, whether it be a loud pair of trousers or a delicate lace dress. I’ve also, over the years, curated myself one hell of a chic wardrobe from items of clothing that my mum and gran were about to throw out because they were old-fashioned. It’s hard, doing what everyone else does on a much smaller budget, but by the time I make items my own, and load myself up with accessories, I feel as if I’ve created something truly unique. I am my own walking piece of art… although I suppose to everyone else I just look like a bit of a weird hippie.

I can do better. I need to do better. But not tonight. Tonight, I need to have a drink with the girl whose heart I just broke, and then tomorrow I need to be up bright and early to turn up for work, for the man who made me do it.

I used to think that each day was a blank canvas, when I was young and naive, but these days I feel as though I’m aimlessly completing the same dot-to-dot puzzle, just going through the motions, following a path I can’t deviate from. Still, at least I didn’t just get dumped, hey? I’d have to have a love life for that to happen…



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