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"I didn't think you noticed. But just for you I'll keep up the dye jobs for now ok?"
She waited dutifully for the punchline but apparently it wasn't coming.
"Ok, good, yes," Ray said instead. "And I do notice you know. They make you look really special, and pretty. I just don't usually think to say anything."
Lizzie was still completely off balance, and by now starting to feel as if she'd accidentally taken a wrong turning into a parallel universe without noticing. Quite a nearby one, where the rules were just marginally different. Maybe green would mean stop here, and red would mean go, and oh yes let's not forget - Ray would be suddenly interested in talking about hair colour and trying to dish out compliments.
Her conversations with Ray in the recent past had tended toward the practical and this was an unsettling deviation from the norm. She had grown used to Ray being more blunt that most of the people she knew, but at the same time managing to be a little distant as well. Neither of which seemed to be adding up cleanly with where they found themselves at the moment. And yet it was quite disarming to get this glimpse of a slightly more fragile Ray, obviously struggling a little as she attempted her clumsy compliment. She looked across at the other woman and wondered whether she could try to use this as an opportunity to make them into better friends.
But sadly, deep in Lizzie's mind dwelt a persistent worm of doubt, left over from when they had been moving her out of her old flat. Ray had talked then about wanting more space and this still loomed large for Lizzie even now. She had worried away at the thought and co-opted in Ray's taciturn manner and any number of other perceived minor slights and dismissals as supporting evidence. Eventually she had pretty much convinced herself that the message intended for her was that Ray would be much happier if she just got her act together and moved on - so she and Sarah could have their room and their privacy back. Lizzie struggled with herself for long seconds, but in the end she couldn't quite break through the barrier of that conviction and instead she was left with no other option but to shut the conversation down.
"It's ok Ray. I'm glad I did this one anyway, and that you think it came out so well. After all I'm going out on Saturday and I want to look my best. You never know, if I'm lucky I might even meet somebody nice who likes it as much as you do."
Lizzie had decided she'd brooded around long enough for now and that it was time to have a shot at pulling herself out of her recent lethargy. The only way she really knew to test the social water was by going on a big evening out (big-ish that is, nothing completely crazy, you had to work your way up to these things). So she'd sent out feelers to a few friends from that side of her life, albeit maybe focusing a smidgeon on people who didn't know her ex so well. Eventually she'd got back the response she was looking for and she'd added herself in on the excursion some of them had planned the following weekend.
She'd do most of her dressing up at home during the afternoon then head off to finish up with the girls at Jasmine and Nisha's house. There would be a team of around five of them there, fine tuning each other's outfits, glitz, and makeup while they built the hype and tanked up on sparkling wine and energetic music. Eventually they'd be joined by the boys (a couple of boyfriends and some additional hangers on) and they'd summon the Ubers and head into town. If they'd timed themselves right then the club would have been open long enough for the queue to die down but not long enough for it to have filled up.
Once they were in it would be the trip to the cloakroom to drop off the coats and bags, first tucking the absolute necessities for the evening somewhere snug where they wouldn't slip out. Then it would be time to hit the dancefloor.
On the day itself everything went according to plan up to that point.