Darren hated shopping malls at the best of times. The screaming children, the infuriatingly cheerful muzak that couldn't be escaped, and the constant attempts to sell you things you didn't want. There was always a faint stench of hobo urine hanging about the place, and he didn't trust the security guards, who never looked brawny enough to do their jobs. (Not that he was looking… shit, shit, it was happening again.) Shopping malls, he felt, had a short lifespan, evolutionarily speaking. It couldn't be long before the human race discarded them and they were remembered only as some sort of hideous social experiment in the nineteenth century. Yes, of course they'd be misremembered. People would try hard to forget, and evolution would provide them with the ability.

That was how evolution worked, wasn't it? He didn't really know.

Darren had gone out last night a committed Christian. When he'd woken up this morning, turned to his side, and seen who was sharing the bed with him, he had very abruptly become an atheist. Under the circumstances, it had all seemed for the best, although it was a new experience for him. He wasn't sure how he was doing or if there was a club he needed to join, but he assumed some light blasphemy before lunch and a little of Richard Dawkins would set him straight. (Or not exactly straight, as the case might be, but- oh God, oh God, this sense of humour hadn't been there yesterday. What was it, some kind of growth?)

He had a vague, very vague, idea of where Jennifer worked, but he couldn't ring her and ask because that would immediately result in her asking where he'd been last night, and he would have to say tell me where you are first, and she would say Darren, I think you have some odd ideas about who's in charge in this relationship, and he would say oh Jesus Christ shut up you witch and that, at least would be an interesting end to the conversation, and indeed the relationship.

(Which at least would allow for the beginning of a much more interesting relationship with someone you met last night who you're probably very compatible with and- oh Jesus Christ¸ shut up!)

Alright, alright, think this through. She worked in cosmetics, didn't she? Or… or something beauty related anyway. Hair, maybe? He really should have paid attention to her once when she was talking about her job, but he'd been staring at her boobs. Not maliciously, he just liked them.

(Then again, had he? Or had that been a kind of subconscious defence against his… hm. Freud might make a good addition to the Dawkins. He was still relevant, right?)

Nails! That was it. She… painted gunk on people's nails, could she really find that a fulfilling job? At least he did something worthwhile; no one could say working for Christian Aid wasn't a fulfilling… ohhh, no. Um, Christ. Ohhh Christ. That was what he'd meant.

He was going to have to change jobs too, wasn't he? Twenty probably wasn't a bad age to do that, but still, he'd been settled. Jennifer wouldn't like it, but then he assumed Jennifer was going to break up with him as soon as he spoke to her, so that probably wasn't an issue. Still, he meandered his way over to the little spa he thought she worked at slowly. Darren had always hated confrontation.

Finally, he stood to the side of the little salon-esque space and cleared his throat nervously.

The three women currently giving manicures proceeded to give him absolutely no attention.

Perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised. Whenever Jennifer talked about her work, Darren tended to stare at her boobs so he could look interested, and given how well he knew them, she must have been fairly interested in it. He cleared his throat again, then again, then finally one more time until the receptionist gave him an alarmed look and started to edge away in case he was contagious. Finally, the woman at the end of the room looked up at him and gave him a prim look. Darren smiled weakly at her. She was wearing the clacky green heels again. The ones that she wore when she was pissed. Oh… dea- Christ. He meant Christ.

She clacked over to him and put her hands on her hips. There was an awkward pause.

"Well?" she said.

… Her boobs looked good. Darren had never understood how she got away with unbuttoning her top so low though: wasn't that unprofessional? That led him off to more thoughts of how she could possibly find doing nails a fulfilling pastime, and then he felt bad because, well, who was to say what constituted a fulfilling job, and oh no she was saying something and he'd missed it completely because he'd been staring at her boobs.

Damn boobs. It was all their fault.

"I'm sorry?" Oh good Darren, good. She could interpret that either as 'I wasn't listening' or 'I'm sorry for whatever I did.' If she was angry, she would go automatically for the second.

She sighed gently, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "I said, where were you last night? I was worried. Now, I know you like to go out with the guys, and that's fine, obviously, but you didn't even call." Jennifer smiled suddenly and punched him gently on the arm. "I mean, I might even think you woke up in bed with some other girl."

Oh God. Word vomit.


The smile disappeared faster than the last slice of pizza on the counter at home.


Suddenly, alarmingly, he felt a need to appease her. "I didn't wake up in bed with some other girl!" he said, waving his arms around as he did when he was nervous. She was still wide-eyed though. Crap. He thought he'd manage to get away without having to either tell the truth or a lie.

"So… you went to a strip club?"

Darren blinked. "What? No. You know I hate those things." Maybe he would get lucky. Maybe she'd drop it as just one of those crazy stories of something Darren got up to with the guys. Except, well, he didn't have any of those crazy stories, really. Before this, the last exciting thing that had happened to him had probably been the time Jennifer put three sugars in his tea by accident.

That had been pretty crazy though.

"So, if you didn't wake up in bed with some other girl, and you didn't go to a strip club, and you didn't get arrested, what did you do?"

… She hadn't asked if he'd been arrested. Unless she had, and that had been while he was thinking? He needed to stop doing that. God, the list was getting longer. Find out if you need to subscribe to any kind of atheist club, find a new job, stop thinking while people were talking and, and, and he was doing it again.

"I didn't… wake up in bed with some other girl."


It was said. The truth will set you free, and he'd probably feel much better about himself now. The world would all be set to rights, Jennifer would eventually forgive him, and they could come out of this experience stronger and happier people. Learn and grow, learn and grow. And maybe she'd stop putting three sugars in his tea.

"You what?!"

Oh God, she was going to claw his face off.

"I was really, really drunk!" he said, marking off the escape routes in his head. Basically, he was going to have to throw himself down an elevator shaft to avoid this situation. It didn't seem like much of a sacrifice. People were staring though, so at least if she murdered him, there'd be witnesses at the trial.

"You were drunk? Well good, because obviously that makes it all okay. Drunkenness is a perfect excuse for anything. Heck, that's why they forgave Hitler for invading Poland, he had had a little tipple beforehand."

"I don't think you should make light of that, it was a serious experience that affected many people's lives," he said, before he could stop himself.

Her face turned red, and what she said next was high-pitched enough to make him clap his hands over his ears. "I don't care how many lives it affected!" She began pacing, the heels clacking menacingly. "So what, are you gay now? This is it, we're over?"

Darren briefly considered telling her that he still liked her boobs, as a sort of consolation prize. Eyeing her red face, he decided against it. "Uh. W-well, I don't know. Look, it's really not that big a deal."

Jennifer's voice was dangerously soft. "Not that big a deal?"

"It's… well…" Darren cast around mentally for an analogy. "Imagine if the world was full of fruit."

She paused in her pacing. "The world is full of fruit."

"Yes," he said. "But imagine if people were fruit."

"Are you still drunk?"

"It's a possibility, yes," he said, nodding. "But, but, imagine that apples only ever fell in love with apples, and plums only ever fell in love with plums, and strawberries only ever fell in love with strawberries, and then one day, an apple realized he was in love with a pear. It's not the apple's fault."

Apparently, this was the last straw. She gave a short little shriek, grabbed a magazine from the reception desk and hit him with it once or twice.

"Well then either break up with me or stop having sex with pears!"

She flung the magazine at him and clacked off in the direction of the toilets. Darren stood there awkwardly, aware of the many eyes on him. A small girl had dropped her ice cream and it was melting into a quiet puddle on the atrium floor.

He changed his mind. It was the shopping mall's fault.

A/N: And after a very, very long recess, I have returned. Older. Possibly wiser. There are, of course, those who would disagree with the latter.

I wrote this piece a couple of months ago and it remains one I'm quite proud of, even if it does read as if it was written on crack. (It wasn't. Probably.) There probably won't be a sequel, really, given I'm trying to learn how to write a piece and just leave it there. Hope you enjoyed it. :)


- Harriet