"I've got too much on," I explain. Or at least I think that explains it.
There is a moment of considered silence, the kind where you know the other person is deciding whether to say what they think or let you away with it - again.
"Like what?" they ask, obviously determined to pin you down.
"Well, I had that thing last week," I say, waving my hand at the event which I spent 4 weeks building up to and am still coming down from on the other side.
Their face twitches like a fly landed on their cheek, except there is no fly. The fly is me, the one in the ointment, in the doorway, in the line of sight. That fly buzzing around, the one they need to keep in one place long enough so they can -
"You can still come," a sideways triumphant gleam. "That thing was last week, it's been eight days, you're not too busy!" Done, dusted, you're coming. Right?
"No!" I refuse, not even knowing how else to refuse than saying No. If I can fully explain myself, in person and face-to-face then it still isn't sorted because my explanations don't fit the standard Reasons to Avoid or Depart that most people keep in their head.
"It took a lot of doing," I try, clenching my hands and starting to pull faces. "That thing last week, it took a lot-"
"It was last week!" Exasperation sets in, as usual. "Last week," they empahsise as if I am five. "This week, you're not busy."
Busy is so relative! I'm not actually doing anything much, no, but I feel busy. The sense that I have lots of different parts of life clamouring for attention is very strong still, the come down from being stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and officially busy last week hangs around into this week too. I am still busy because I feel busy.
While I'm casting about for a reason they will understand and accept (other than No, which seems like an invitation for more pressure to say Yes), they take their chance to ice the cake.
"Anyway," they shrug, as if I am already gathering my coat to come, "it'll be fun!"
I stop in my tracks, not moving, frozen in disbelief that they could use the F-word in this way.
"Fun?!" I splutter, incredulous.
"Yes!" I get a happy face, oh joy. "You enjoyed yourself last time, after all your moaning!"
Last time I managed not to leave early, you see. It's always a mistake to show weakness by not walking out when you want to. Stay the full time one week and people expect it every week; don't run out crying one week, they decide you had a great time; don't beg to be taken home; they know you've finally got over your funny little social thing.
Don't refuse to come in the first place? You will be asked, pushed, pressured, kicked into the car and driven to the damn thing whether or not you explain yourself or claw, pitifully, at the window all the way there.
No, I want to say. I want to back away and say NO until it's listened to, a word with rights, an answer that is acceptable because it's the only one I can give.
"Hurry up then, or we'll be late."
They walk out the door, leaving it open behind them, confident I'll follow.
"No," I whisper, then decide whether or not to pick up my coat.