(Continued from Parents’ Evening)
I put my phone away. That’s when I see him, standing on the opposite side of the junction. I smile and cross the road.
‘Hi….’ I confirm his name, give mine. He doesn’t say anything but looks at me strangely. I rush on. ‘I’m so sorry, what I should have said first on the phone just now was, sorry I’m late.’
He doesn’t smile but looks away, down the street.
Shit. Eight months and ten minutes and I’ve got off to a false start, which might, if his expression is anything to go by, be the end of it.
‘Sorry…,’ he says.
What’s coming next? This isn’t going to work out? Have a good night?
‘… sorry.’ He puts a hand to his ear. ‘I can’t hear very much.’
‘Oh – err – as in…?’
‘I can hear some of what you’re saying but not the top register…’
Is this why he never suggested meeting? He’s deaf? I adopt my least judgmental face. ‘Oh…’
Hard to know what to say to this. Of course, on one level, it doesn’t really matter.
‘What happened is,’ he goes on, frowning, ‘I was at this gig and it was like… offensively loud, so I can hear some of what you’re saying but not all of it.’
‘Oh. Has – has it permanently affected your hearing?’
‘I was wondering about that. I’ve been to gigs which were as loud before and it’s had a similar effect, but then it’s been fine, so hopefully it will wear off in an hour or so.’
‘Was – was this just now then?’
‘Oh.’ My relief must be visible. ‘I – I thought….’ I laugh. ‘OK.’
‘Yeah. It was pretty intense.’
Like his expression: still no flicker of a smile. He tells me a bit about what made it intense. I barely understand a word.
‘So,’ he concludes, ‘shall we get a herbal tea?’
That’s when I recognize it, the faint aroma about his person. I’d noticed it at once, but not understood what it meant. Now, with the words ‘moshing’ and ‘seriously fucked’ hanging in the air, the pieces are starting to fall into place. The guy is already drunk, has probably consumed more alcohol in the last hour than I’ve had in the past year.
This isn’t going so well.
But he is horribly attractive.
He laughs, the slightly hysterical laugh of someone who’s nervous or drunk or both.
I meet his eye. ‘Are – you’re – you’re joking, right?’
He looks down at the ground, smiling. It’s the expression in his profile picture. ‘Yes.’
Not for the first time that night, I feel an overwhelming sense of relief.