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Hiding Behind The Couch (HBTC #1)

Prologue

    To know people, that is, to know them well, one must spend time with them, go where they go, engage them in conversation, be an enduring part of their daily life to such a significant extent that one might feature in their diary or journal. The back stories of friends intersect frequently, though narrative style will vary according to the magnitude of these shared experiences in the context of the individual's history. Nonetheless, there remains a mutuality that an onlooker cannot readily circumvent; confusion ensues.
    Of course this puts you, our newest acquaintance, at a distinct disadvantage. You join us on an ordinary evening in our favourite restaurant, preferred for its affordability and the excellent service the regularity of our custom brings. We will remain until the staff intimate we are about to outstay our welcome, but we will worry about this later. For now, let me briefly introduce you to my closest friends.
    Fittingly, Dan has taken a position at one end of the table, although I daresay his position as our leader is more concrete in his mind than in reality. He is an absurdly good-looking fellow: angular facial features, chiselled, one might say, and a musculature defined by dedicating many hours to physical leisure and labour. His brother sits to his right and pretends that he is not listening.
    Andy, the older and arguably more handsome of the siblings, lacks Dan's easy charisma and looks beat. Some would contend that he is disorganised and devoid of ambition; on the contrary, his strength lies in his capacity to follow his instincts, to live for the present. As if to demonstrate, he runs his hand up the inside of Jess's thigh in spite of the company and at best a fifty-fifty chance of a positive outcome. On this occasion she slaps the hand away whilst continuing to converse across the table.
    Had Jess failed to achieve a first class degree in law, a lucrative career as a glamour model could still be hers. With her long, perfect blonde hair, large breasts and slender legs, she alludes to everything that she is not, satisfied to be in a friendship with benefits, albeit one which is not without its drawbacks. Sometimes I wonder how she came to be friends with the rest of us, for on an intellectual level there is only one who comes close.
    Eleanor: my dearest friend, carrying the weight of my world on her shoulders with ease. Still greater are the trials she creates herself, for her life does not need to be so difficult. It is beyond me to know whether she is beautiful, so I will leave you to decide, as you observe her skilfully flitting in and out of conversations with everyone here, ever the diplomat, which is why tonight we find her sitting between Dan and Adele.
    Note the perfect tip of that nose, the symmetrical geometry of those eyebrows, the flawless skin and precise placement of every hair. Sometimes I fear she is lost within that painted, delicate shell, but every now and then, less often than a blue moon, say, a hairline crack appears, and the real Adele seeps through. Even then I find her disappointingly simple but love her dearly, admire her perhaps, for her capacity to maintain a superficial glaze of interest. See that flutter of eyelashes? Kris believes she is actually listening.
    What a strange mismatch of artistic passion and forthright Nordic sensibility! Kris has 'contradiction' running through him like the place name in a stick of seaside rock. This animated gabbling about his work is a ruse, and if you have fallen for it, then you are forgiven; most people do. Here is proof positive that it is impossible to be everything to everyone and maintain an integrated sense of self. Watch his reluctance in switching his attention from one love to another: Shaunna wants a drink, and she rubs his arm gently to alert him once again to her presence.
    Life has not been so kind to Shaunna, although you wouldn't know it. I envisage that she frequently falls to pieces behind closed doors. She is an excellent, devoted wife and mother, noteworthy in that she was involuntarily thrown into both. What would she have made of her life in the absence of childbirth? Maybe no more than she did in its presence, and to ponder such possibilities denies the value of motherhood.
    And here to my left is George, who loves me, but we ignore this. Alas, as his love grows, I fear that mine dwindles. He fusses so and tries too hard to please me; and everyone else for that matter. Is there something to my leaving him until now?
    Lastly, I am Josh. There is little I can add that you will not discover in time.

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