“Emma, I really would rather not go.”
“Prof, if I’m going to get dragged along to some end of year party by Paul, who’s probably going to forget that I don’t know his coworkers very well and leave me to fend for myself halfway through, then I’m not suffering alone. You’re coming with me.” Emma picked up her keys from the counter, the jangle of the metal filling the air between her and Henry.
Henry put down his pencil and sighed, rubbing his eyes frustratedly. “I don’t know his coworkers either, in fact, I don’t know them at all! I’ve met Paul once.”
Emma, standing by the front door, looked back at Henry seated at the dining table. “Hidgens, you barely ever get out. Humour me this one time and if it goes badly, I swear I’ll never force you to come to anything again.”
Hidgens sighed again and motioned for Emma to go out the door, reluctantly getting to his feet. “You’d better.”
To his surprise, there was no rowdiness at this party like he expected, seeing as Paul was a friend of Emma’s and Emma was pretty rowdy when she wanted to be. It was calm and almost dignified, the craziest thing about it being the sombrero that one guy (he assumed it was Paul’s boss, from the way the others talked to and about him) had donned early on in the evening. Supposedly, it was an attempt to ‘spice things up’, but all it really did was spice up the tension in the room, adding to the level of awkwardness that’s obligatory with a meeting of coworkers outside of work.
In the half an hour since he and Emma had arrived, Henry hadn’t shifted from his spot in the corner, carefully sheltering himself from Paul’s coworkers by slotting himself into a conversation with Paul and Emma. Paul was nice enough, he thought, perhaps a little boring, but there was no accounting for taste. It had become clear early on was that Paul had a strong distaste for musicals, which Henry chose to ignore rather than argue. If Emma liked him, that was good enough for him.
Although drinks had been passed around from before he and Emma had arrived, nobody was particularly drunk, even Ted, who Emma had warned beforehand was prone to hogging all the alcohol. Fortunately, Henry didn’t want to drink as he wasn’t the best at handling being drunk, and Ted wasn’t anywhere to be seen - not that that was a particularly good thing, but it was better than him being slumped over in an armchair, bottle in hand. This was an event where his boss was present, after all. Not that he would’ve minded, judging from the stories of drunk!Ted at previous meetings and the fact that Ted still had a job.
By the time a couple of hours had passed, Henry was fast running out of Socialisation Juice and was trying to hint about it to Emma, who was getting increasingly deeper in conversation with Paul by the second. Paul’s boss (who Henry now knew as Davidson) was pretty drunk, slumped against the opposite wall with his wife standing nearby, seeming to speak calmly but her busy hand gestures letting on how frustrated she really was.
Before he could attempt a even-less-subtle hint, a guy who, from the bottle in his hand Henry could only assume was Ted, came striding through the door as if he owned the place. To his horror, he headed straight for Henry and plopped himself down on the nearest couch.
“New meat, eh? Didn't see you at work today. What’s your name?”
“Uh,” Henry said, offended but not sure how to show this politely, “I’m actually just a friend of Emma’s. She made me come along.”
Henry pointed wordlessly at Emma beside him, who was at this point seemingly trying to find something in the depths of Paul’s eyes from the intensity of her stare.
“Oh,” said Ted. “That chick. Y'know, a while ago at Beanie's I tipped her and she didn’t sing for me.”
Henry, now debatably more uncomfortable than he’d ever been in his life, took a deep breath. “I mean, singing isn’t exactly in her job description.”
“Yeah, but, still, it was a let down.”
Contemplating the politest way to say ‘what the fuck’ to someone you just met, Henry perched himself unthinkingly on the edge of the same couch Ted was sitting on the other end of. “I suppose so, yes, but surely there’s more important things than whether the girl you tipped sings a song to you? Do you not have a radio? I heard they’re better than bribing people to sing for you because 1. They’re free and 2. They’re not manipulative.”
“Oh, ho, ho! Wise man, are you? Now tell me; if you saw a sign saying that a bottle of water was two dollars, and you gave those two dollars to the person standing at the till, wouldn’t you expect a bottle of water?” Ted waved his own, definitely not-water-bottle vaguely as he spoke, sloshing the liquid inside from side to side.
“Well, yes, but-”
“No buts! It’s the same!”
"If you pay a tip, it's generally to say that you appreciate the service. Not because you expect another service on top of the one you're already being given."
"Fuck's sake," he heard Ted mutter. "Who are you, anyway?"
"I could ask the same of you."
Ted let out an exasperated sigh. “I just asked a simple question.”
“I don’t have to answer that.”
“Why, Mr Bond? So you don’t give away your secret identity? Fucking hell, I’m just trying to make conversation.”
Just then, Henry felt a nudge in his side. He turned around and saw Emma, ready to go. “C’mon. You ready?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m ready.”
Emma waited until they were in the car until she spoke again. “What are you so angry about?”
Henry sighed. “Ted. I know you said he was an asshole, but good God, I didn’t realise it was that bad.”
Emma smiled sympathetically. “Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with him. Sorry for leaving you with him. You don’t have to come again.”
“Oh no,” Henry replied. “I’ll come.”
Emma shot him a questioning glance.
“I want to teach him a lesson.”
Emma grinned. “Well, you’re the professor. I’ll come pick you up again on Friday, okay? Paul’s asked us all out for dinner, you included. He wants to actually get a chance to talk to you this time.”
They pulled up outside the gates of Henry’s house that bore an unforgettable resemblance to a fortress and he got out, thanking Emma before he shut the door and headed inside to be in the warmth and comfort of his dining room, once again.