A company function I would happily boycott.

It is the evening of the company’s sixth anniversary. The official company celebration that I would cheerfully boycott given the opportunity. When I arrive at the jazz restaurant in the prestigious Merchant Hotel drinks are flowing at the long table where the team are sitting.

The guys greet me with wolf whistles and catcalls and although I laugh and banter with them my mood is heavy. During the evening it deteriorates further and in proportion to the increasing decibels of excited voices rising at the table.

Simon and Louise sit apart. Their smiles are fixed on their faces as if they are determined to enjoy their evening. Maria sits at the far end of the table. She doesn’t look at me but her laughter is loud and her smile tense around her eyes. When I glance at her she deliberately looks away.

The jazz band swings but I am not in the humour to be frivolous or fun. I feel like an island afloat in the sea, ebbing and flowing in and out of the conversation, drifting in and out of the laughter. Swimming for survival, I float on the flotsam of conversation that glides past me.

After the meal Steve, Adam, Mike (the boy band) and Ray (the quiet one) drift toward the bar. Stuart and Siobhan are swaying on the dance floor and Louise and Liam are attempting some sort of complicated jive movement.

Simon appears beside me. “Come on, Ellie. Let’s show them how it’s done!” He grabs my hand and I know that if I refuse I would look churlish and miserable.

After we dance Mark pulls me onto the floor to jive, then Stuart twirls me around like a rag-doll and then Liam won’t take no for an answer. He is a sophisticated dancer and poses with his film-reviews star looks at every opportunity. I’m not sure if it’s for my benefit or for the watching diners but he’s fun and he makes me laugh.

Half an hour later I am drinking soda water and lime at the bar when Louise appears at my elbow. “Thanks for speaking to Simon,” she raises her voice above the music.

“I didn’t!”

“I know you did.” Her tired smile is genuine. “After he spent the night in the office.”

I shrug. “I hope it helped.”

She’s drinking vodka and orange very, very, quickly. “I don’t know how to get through to him. He is so stubborn. I want a family. I need one but he won’t listen.”

“Yes, I know, it’s like the time he wanted to buy retail premises and sell hardware instead of expanding Apps and games…”

“What?” she raises her voice.

“I said,” I shout, “he’ll come around in the end.”

After more drinks and several dances Simon and Louise go home. I want to leave too. I scan the room but I cannot see Maria.

I go to the toilet and I am standing at the mirror washing my hands when the door opens. I look up and in the reflection Maria is standing in the doorway. She stares at me and I see desire in her eyes, and that is when she tilts her head, indicating for me to follow her…