I stepped off the stage, forehead sweating and heart racing from the adrenaline. I felt claps on my back and muffled voices that sounded like congratulations, but it all felt distant. I did it, and I felt proud. Everyone congregated in the downstairs bar for well-earned post show drinks. All evening people had come up to me, congratulating me on a job well done.
“I can’t believe most of that was improvised,” they’d say, “you have a real talent.” My scene partner and I glanced at each other with approval, proud of the blood, sweat, tears and endless workshopping we had put into that variety show, to see it all pay off.
That’s when I saw him across the room, and my heart stopped. I clutched onto my friend. “That’s him,” I said, “my… ex.” That word always felt weird when I said it out loud. Because he wasn’t technically my ‘ex’. To be an ‘ex’, you need to have been a ‘thing’, and I had no idea what we were, only that ex-something was the best way to describe it.
Before I knew it, my feet were guiding me towards him, and I couldn’t stop them. We hadn’t seen each other, much less spoken, in years. And he certainly wasn’t going to say hi first. But I needed to… I didn’t know what I needed, exactly. Only that I had to approach him, to be the bigger person, to be brave.
“Hi,” I smiled warmly as he nodded at me in acknowledgement, “How have you been?” We exchanged small talk, and I notice the subtle differences in his appearance. He was less put together, wore a lot of brown, and seemed gruffer, somehow.
“So…” I dawdled, “How did you find the play?”
He clutched at his unshaven chin, the hair on there a slightly different shade to the one on his head. Before the variety show, I performed in a one-act play that had been written and directed by his best friend.
“You see, Ella, the thing with directing is…”
I can’t remember what he said after that, only that he droned on and on about pretentious nonsense like he knew anything and everything about directing. Actors, I thought, suppressing the urge to roll my eyes, as I listened to him unashamedly slate the play written by his supposed best friend.
“Well,” I said, finally managing to weasel a word in edgeways after his monologue, “I was only fishing for a compliment, but good to know.”
He blinked back, surprised at my brute honesty. “Well, you were very good,” he stuttered, “All things considered.”
That brief conversation that couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes gave me all the confirmation I needed that we weren’t the same people anymore. He wasn’t the guy I fell in love with, and I wasn’t the girl madly hanging onto his every word. The spell that he had on me was broken, and I finally felt free. Like I had all the closure I needed to move on. Whatever we had before was in the past, and it could stay there. I was free to finally move forward into the person I wanted to be, that I so deserved to be.