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Chances Are - Seven

Don’t take yourself too seriously

No drama

Like a girl that takes care of herself.

Fern sighed and tossed her phone on the sofa. She couldn't deny that dating apps were at least good for making her feel better about being on her own. It was better than putting up with some idiot whose main requirement for a partner was that he'd get to make fun of her without pushback if her feelings were hurt. Fern considered deleting her account for the seventeen thousandth time, but she knew she would just end up downloading it again, so what was the point.

The whole business was a sort of weird self-flagellation, a punishment for being single in the digital age. That nagging feeling that she could delete them all for good — but then, could she honestly say she was doing everything she could to meet her person? Even if, after years of the download-and-delete Hokey Cokey, it was abundantly clear that apps are not made to facilitate meetings between potentially compatible people.

Fern had worked too many technology and data cases not to know how algorithms worked. And specifically, not to suspect dating apps were designed to make you feel crap and insecure enough to give them money. She was fully aware that almost all of the best couples she knew had met organically. And yet every few evenings, she found herself swiping herself deeper into a pit of misery in the futile hope that maybe the next swipe would be the one that made it all worth it.

The worst bit was, half the time, she wasn’t even sure where a man would fit into her life in any case. Suppose a man moved into her beloved flat. Would he accept the glorious overstuffed purple velvet sofa she'd found on a vintage website? Fern had painstakingly hand-sewn the pile of throw cushions in a lockdown patchworking Zoom class. She adored every mismatched, slightly squint and occasionally glued, one.

Would he complain that stuffing was escaping from them all and expect to replace the glorious velvety nest with a grown-up sectional in a neutral colour? Well, he could get lost, Fern thought resentfully.Who did he think he was?

Fern signed and put her feet up on the coffee table. The walnut Queen Anne coffee table was the one black hole in her otherwise adored home. She’d bought it at the Barras a few years back, flushed with thrill at the find. It had potential, as she’d explained to her twin, Gus, while he humphed it up to her third-floor tenement flat.

Unfortunately, as she set out to sand off the scratches and chips and horrific orange-y varnish, she’d got caught up in a massive case that ended up being months of litigation. She’d abandoned the project, but even since she won the case six months ago, she hadn’t quite found the energy to tackle the monstrosity. It taunted her every weekend and every evening, reminding her that she might be the youngest female partner at her firm, a homeowner who had also paid off her parents’ mortgage, but she wasn’t so bloody perfect after all, was she?

Fern loved her job. The adrenaline rush of spotting a weakness in the opposition’s case was one of her favourite feelings. She found the juxtaposition between the solidness of numbers and how they could be moulded around an argument oddly soothing. She had fought hard to be taken seriously in the male-dominated corporate and financial law field, and she now had the case history to back her up. Yet she could never entirely escape the sensation that she was a wee girl playing dress up. It wasn’t just a gender thing — though Morvan would disagree. It was a question of class.

The other partners — particularly the women, in fact — had grown up in leafy sandstone mansions in a world of pony clubs and family board games. They chatted casually about teenage ski trips, making after-school toast on Agas, and of parents who underwrote mortgages.

None of them had worked full-time through university as Fern had. Uni had been a dizzying blur of lectures, cafe shifts, essays and bar shifts. Begging for extensions, creeping about the kitchen as her flatmates slept and waking to an insistent alarm every bit as groggy and drained as when her head hit the pillow. Even now, she sometimes pulled up the bank app on her phone just to look at her carefully-nurtured savings accounts and breathed a sigh of relief.

Fern didn’t resent her colleagues — they couldn’t help their upbringings any more than she could. Fern loved her parents and refused to be embarrassed. Even if she occasionally caught herself muttering vaguely about her dad being “away” if anyone questioned her too closely about Christmas plans.

Half-watching some American Housewives on her TV scream at one another for some reason or other, Fern picked up her phone again to scroll through emails. She had sent the trial bundle to her client’s head office in Sydney just before she left for the clinic appointment this afternoon. If her time difference calculations were correct, the clients would have been up for an hour or two and would be sending notes any minute. Reading the feedback now would have her wide awake for hours analysing it and composing counterpoints, but better that than lying awake thinking of the appointment.

A month.

When Fern finally pulled herself together outside the hospital to be able to drive, she had made up her mind that she would give herself one more month. Four weeks to think it over, put a bit of space between the decision and the way correcting that wee nurse had made her feel.

Maybe time to finally confide in Gus.

He wouldn’t get it. He’d do his best to understand, to have her back the way he always had, but he wouldn’t truly get it. His reaction to their childhood was to be determinedly footloose and fancy-free. But Fern craved the stable family she’d never known. Even without a partner, she knew she could build a more loving, secure home than she had ever known.

And she would. In one more month.

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