Fade In

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After two weeks of not having heard from VP I’m finally starting to move on. No more waking up and glancing at my phone expectantly. I go whole days without looking at his profile or re-reading old messages. OK there might be the odd cry on the Northern line, and for ten consecutive evenings I do absolutely nothing with myself, and the irony of baking an elaborate cake on the day which happens to be his birthday isn’t entirely lost on me. But by day fourteen, I’m getting back on track. I even go on a date and resist the urge to compare it to the incomparable. That, I tell myself, was another life. A fantasy. And anyway, he’s gone. I have to get over it.


Monday morning. My flatmate is back from holiday and the creak of the bathroom floor wakes me. I put out my arm, a beam of sunlight catching the dial of my watch. Half an hour before I have to get up.


This was one of the things which, in the course of the past week, had gone back to normal. The Nytol I’d purchased circa Second Date was now gathering dust on the bedside table. In fact, things had gone to the other extreme: bed by ten and multiple snoozed alarms. An extra half hour of sleep would be enjoyed, luxuriated in.


I roll over and that’s when I see it, the small pulsating light. I run through a short mental list of people it might be, and an even shorter list of people it won’t, and swipe the screen.


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‘What’s the occasion this time?’CC Image courtesy of avye on Flickr

‘Err….’ I scrunch up my face.  ‘How many people do you get coming in saying they’ve just been dumped?’

‘Aaw,’ she says with professional concern.

‘Not dumped,’ I put in quickly, ‘not in so many words…’

Make that no words.

Scissors at the ready, she meets my eye in the glass.  ‘No but – you want to feel good about yourself.’

I can tell she’s used that line before.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I want to feel good about myself.’


She looks up from what she’s doing.  ‘Are you up to anything tonight?’

‘I… I don’t know.  I’m supposed to be having dinner with someone but I’m err waiting to hear if it’s gonna happen.’  I laugh.  ‘I’m so bad at this dating stuff!’

She gives me a sympathetic look. ‘Why don’t you just text him saying ‘are we still on for tonight?”

‘I thought about doing that,’ I say, taking out my phone, ‘but… whenever I’ve done that in the past it’s never panned out well.  I mean, whenever I’ve… not forced it, I’ve never forced it, but whenever I’ve – y’know…’

‘Taken the initiative?’

‘Yeah, it’s always turned out badly, and I end up thinking, if I’d only heeded the signs early on I’d have saved myself a lot of heartache.  So I figured, this time, I might as well leave it, because, well, he’s clearly not that interested.’


Exactly a month ago I’d found myself in the same predicament with VP.  At 1.30 in the afternoon, I’d cracked and texted him.  This time, with Redhead, I leave it.  By half 6, I’ve mentally re-allocated my evening.  I feel sad, but not crazed in the way I was when VP left me hanging.  I don’t think it’s because I’ve learnt from what happened.  No: it’s because it’s not VP.


7pm, I emerge from the tube.  Once home, I’ll write a shopping list.  It’s still early enough on a Saturday not to look like a total loser, wandering round Sainsbury’s with a basket for one.  I check my phone, more out of habit than anything else.  And there it is, a message from Redhead, asking if I have any ideas for dinner.  I don’t know what to feel.  Fed-up?  Frustrated?  Glad?  Sad?  Pissed off?


Part of me wants to greet him with a reprimand.  Before he’s had a chance to sit down I want to tell him he can’t do this.  I can’t do this!  I need plans and certainty and… plans.  I need plans!  Shoot me!


I bet Tristan would plan, which is a pointless thought.  And anyway he probably wouldn’t.


I’m too tired and generally fed up to put much effort into choosing a restaurant.  There’s a part of me which can’t be bothered to go.  But I will, for the simple reason that I find him really attractive.  Now shoot me.

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‘Oh fuck-a-duck.’  I start to laugh.  ‘That’s fast looking like my only option!’


It began with a fairly typical exchange off the back of an email I wrote to my mother, with the slightly melodramatic subject line ‘Suicide Watch’.

‘Did you see it?’ I say.


I laugh.  She joins in.

‘I mean – really!’ I say.  ‘What – what does it take?!  Of all the subject lines!’

Eventually the laughter subsides.  I can picture my mother, sitting at the kitchen table, opening the email on the iPad she bought because she thought it was pretty.

‘O-K,’ she says, ‘I’ve read it.’

‘Yeah so… my question was… should I – no – am I entitled to any kind of… confirmation-?’


‘No.’  But my echo is more of a question.

‘Listen to me,’ she says. ‘You do not contact him.’

‘No.  No, I know.’  I laugh.  ‘Flatmate must be going soft in his dotage, cos he said different.’

‘What did he say?’

I start to tell her.  She cuts in. ‘You do nothing.  OK?’

‘Yep.  Incidentally, Redhead seems to have also forgotten I exist.  Oh fuck-a-duck.’  I start to laugh.  ‘That’s fast looking like my only option!  I’ve gotta say, my love life really is a fail!’

My mother doesn’t respond immediately.  I find the silence oddly soothing.

‘And,’ I go on, ‘I don’t think I did anything so very wrong with this last one!’

‘No, but… well, it does sound like you tend to go for guys who have got it all: funny, charming, good-looking. And… well, they’ve got jobs….’

Which makes me smile.  There’s no denying it’s part of the attraction.

‘… so what can you expect?

‘Yeah but – I think that’s just the way I paint them.  I mean, I don’t think they have got it all…’

‘Well, I don’t know, but from what you say…’

‘Hmm maybe, but I can’t help the fact they’re the guys I like!  I mean, I don’t want to spend time with guys who aren’t those things!  So, what, I’m going to be single forever?!’

‘You’re probably going to have to accept that for quite a lot of the time you’re going to be on your own.’


I look up at the building which houses my office.  In there is Tristan, the only guy I really like who hasn’t blotted his copybook of late.  He has got it all, including a girlfriend, but that doesn’t alter the fact he’s a kind of standard.  Like Max, he has the ability to light up a room.  When he walks in, people relax and smile.  The effect is almost magical.

I climb the steps leading up to the entrance. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t think I’m gonna compromise.’

This muggle wants magic.

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‘I can’t ask him!’CC Image courtesy of Jason Hargrove on Flickr

‘But I can,’ Catherine says.

I laugh.  ‘Yes.’



I’ve donned a red silk sundress.  It’s a statement piece.  The statement?  I don’t care that you have a girlfriend and flirted with me over dinner, because I am FABULOUS.  Catherine probably realizes this – she knows me better than anyone – but she doesn’t let on and I’m grateful.

‘Let’s go then.’


‘He’s got a ponytail,’ I say, as we approach the station.

Catherine laughs.  ‘Really?!’

‘Yeah, but otherwise… he hasn’t really changed.  In fact,’ I frown, ‘he’s exactly the same.’


And he’s exactly the same as he was the other night.  At university, I’d been a bit jealous of Catherine’s friendship with him.  I tell her as much on the walk back to the flat.

‘I had no idea!’

‘Yeah….  Thank you for finding out about the girlfriend by the way.  So… that casts Thursday in a slightly different light.’


She doesn’t pursue the subject, and again I’m grateful.

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CC Image courtesy of Lena_J on FlickrI remember running together along the cobbled pavement of St. Giles to catch the beginning of the play.  Something French and obscure.  Afterwards we walked back to college, said goodnight beneath the clock, went our separate ways.


He left suddenly part way through second year, and we lost touch.


‘Anna!  How are you?  If you’re in London – want to meet up?’

I stare a moment, and not because the punctuation is whack.


A few weeks back, I’d been invited to a salon in South London, the kind of terrifying Bohemian affair I can never quite muster the courage to attend.  I’d noticed his sister’s name amongst the list of organizers and his own, under ‘Going’.  Idle curiosity took me to a sparse profile, which took me to another, more active, full of smiles and blonde bubbliness.  Not what I’d expected, but they looked sweet together.


It feels strange, writing to a man without worrying that I’m coming across too keen or replying too fast.  Good strange.  I say I’d love to meet up, and how about this evening?  I can even fool myself, when he comes back minutes later saying tonight would be good, that I don’t mind so very much about VP‘s sudden silence.


The theatre comes into view.  I imagine he’ll be easy to spot, above the crowd.  He’s tall, very tall, I remember that, with messy red hair.  And then I see him.

‘Hello!’  We hug.  ‘I’d forgotten how tall you are!  I must have asked you to ballroom dance at some point!’

‘I think you did,’ he says, smiling.

His hair has lightened and – wait for it – falls down his back in a ponytail which reminds me of Legolas.

‘Shall we find a coffee?’ he says, scanning the street.


It’s a glorious evening, too hot for coffee, and the pavement is crowded with tourists and commuters.

He laughs.  ‘It’s not much better than Piccadilly Circus!’

Where we’d originally planned on meeting.

‘I was just thinking that!’

‘Let’s find some green.’


‘Are you hungry?’

I prop myself up on my elbows, look at my watch. ‘I should be.’

‘That’s a no then,’ he says, smiling.  He hasn’t changed.

‘I will be soon.’

‘Shall we walk?’


We rise, brushing leaves and grass from our clothes, and start walking in the direction of life.  He has a habit, initially disconcerting, of stopping every now and again to discuss something, so our progress is slow.  At the playground we pause.  He tells me he used to come here as a child.

The sign on the fence reads, ‘Adults may only enter if accompanied by a child.’

‘Which of us is going to be the child?’ I say, looking him up and down.  He gives me a look; we climb the railings.


‘What sort of food do you like?’

I lower myself gently to the ground.  ‘Errr… good food?  What sort of food do you like?’

‘Good food.’

Our eyes meet along the length of the see-saw.


‘I’m just going to find the loos…’

I examine my reflection in the mirror.  I look tired.  I should refresh my make-up, comb my hair.  If this was a date I would do those things, but it’s not.  Is it?  I frown.  I’m not sure what’s going on.  It feels like a date, but that might just be him.  He has a way of looking at you, piercing and intense, which makes you think… But he has a girlfriendFacebook says so.  I check my phone.  Nothing from VP.  The girl in the glass looks sad, wants to go home, but she’s agreed to dinner.


‘Have you tried this?’

‘Not yet.’

Skilfully he transfers a slither of perfectly rare beef to my dish.  I eat it.

‘Wow,’ I say.  ‘Wow.’

He nods, and again our eyes meet.  They keep doing that.


On the walk to the tube, I brush against him.


‘Don’t let it be another five years!’ I say with a nervous laugh.  ‘Well, goodbye.’  We hug.  ‘Oops I trod on your foot.’

‘And… I’m around on Saturday, so… let me know.’

‘I will – I’ll talk to Catherine, see what her plans are.’


The next day, I find myself once again on his profile, barren save for a relationship status.  He didn’t act like someone in a relationship.  I bring up the girlfriend, browse the pictures.  There’s one of them in the half-darkness, playing on swings, and a location: the same playground.  For the first time I feel anger towards him.  Just a week after Matthew and a virtual repeat.  I close the tab and delete the draft text suggesting Catherine and I meet him for lunch when she’s over on the weekend.

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