Wasted

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CC Image courtesy of francisco_osorio on FlickrThe Master of Ceremonies is wearing what looks like a high-end bin-liner.  ‘Turn to the person next to you,’ he says, ‘and share a story with the theme ‘Wasted’.’

‘I’m glad I’m next to the wall,’ I say, laughing.

Karl isn’t going to let me off the hook.  He goes first, with a story about how he wasted four months of his life working for an estate agents called Foxtons.  In that time he worked like a dog, to the point that he would get home to his girlfriend and be too tired to have sex.  ‘She used to beg me,’ he says, eyes wide with wonder, ‘but I just couldn’t!’  He shakes his head.  ‘It was such a waste.’

Now it’s my turn.  On reading the event description for the evening, I’d run a quick scan of the memory files for any relevant anecdotes.  Lately the saying ‘you regret the things you don’t do’ had been preying on my mind.  In Forget Me Not, the woman asks, ‘Any regrets?’  ‘Maybe,’ the guy says.  It’s a poignant moment.  Regrets, I realised, are something I never want to have and I don’t have many.  But there’s one I can’t seem to shake.  There it is, a wasted opportunity which fills me with feelings of regret.  It’s a trivial story, barely a story at all, but once lodged in my head, I can’t shift it.  And so, when Bin Liner invites us to share, it’s the only one that springs to mind.  I take a deep breath.

‘I should’ve gone to the ball at which I would have met the man I should marry but I didn’t because the guy who invited me I was still getting over and now the guy I should marry is going out with someone else….’

I said it was trivial, pathetic even.

Karl cuts in, ‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I frown.  ‘Sorry?’

‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I don’t, but the question is just annoying.  I mean, of course he’s the guy I should marry.

‘Because, when we did meet-.’

‘So you did meet him?’

‘Yes, we worked together…’

And if you’d let me finish the ruddy story, you’d have found this out!

‘… and we just got on really well.’

To the point that I was left in no doubt that he was the man I should marry.  Honestly, details.

‘But if you had met, you might have gone out together, and found it didn’t work.  I mean, you meet, you become lovers, and then you get to know each other, and then, if it works, it might become a relationship, but not necessarily.  More often than not, it doesn’t work.’

‘True.  But, well, I think it would work.  But anyway, now he’s got a girlfriend.  It’s such a waste.’

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‘You’re welcome to get changed at mine beforehand if you’d rather not travel in white tie.’

CC Image courtesy of The Bees Knees Daily on Flickr

It was too long, Anna felt, but the redrafting had become ridiculous.

He sent back, ‘I’m just figuring out how to get to London, and will let you know once I’ve decided.’

Then that last, adorable sentence.  She smiles on reading it, the tell-tale grin of someone who should be working, but whose attention has strayed.

She sits a moment, chin resting on her hand, looking out of the window.  It’s funny that he wants to know.  Black tie, and it might be the bow tie, or a cummerbund.  Can you wear a cummerbund with white tie?  She thinks not.  A handkerchief then, or a button hole?  The idea of it makes her laugh.

The sound of a step brings her back to the present.  It’s Gus, at the photocopier.  He smiles.  ‘Hey.’

 

It’s bright sun outside, almost a summer’s day.  She walks in the direction of the gardens, where the beds are a riot of colour.

Flowers perhaps.  He might present her with a bouquet.  For all she knows that’s what they do on the continent.

Sophie thought that made a difference.  ‘I think it’s even harder to know, if he’s German.’

Anna laughed.  ‘Are you just saying what I want to hear?’

‘Yes.’

There was only one thing she couldn’t explain away and so it gave her hope.  Three times Johann had issued an invitation, to a dinner in London.  Twice in person and a third time when she had written to thank him for a ball.  The cynic in her said it was probably because they were low on numbers, but still, she would only push it with someone she… but perhaps that was just her.

Then there was Freddie.

‘Someone left a red towel here – would that be yours?’

The quaint turn of phrase had made her smile.

‘It’s not mine I’m afraid.  I’m sure someone will contact Freddie if it’s precious – I’ve let him know you’ve got it.’

Why had she said that?  It would surely have made him think… but not to worry.  Tonight it would be clear.  She would be friendly and open.  And Freddie almost certainly wouldn’t be there.

 

He’s one of the last to arrive.  The sight of him makes her nervous and she doesn’t see – or if she does, she doesn’t register it – but kisses him, on the cheeks, her arm at an awkward angle.

‘These are for you,’ he says, stepping back.  ‘Navy is a difficult colour to match!’

She can feel her face growing hot.  ‘Thank you – they’re beautiful.’

Deep blue anenomes with velvety black centres, bluebells, and white tulips.

‘It’s a tradition back home.  You always bring flowers that match your partner’s dress.’

‘Aaw.’  Their scent is light and sweet.  ‘Thank you.’

She hugs him, kisses him again on the cheek.

 

‘All girls like flowers.’

Anna half-turns in her seat, smiling.

‘We saw your flowers, and were just saying, all girls like to be given flowers.’

It’s a passenger across the aisle.  Anna looks down at the bouquet.  ‘I thought so, when I heard you mention flowers.’

‘Are they from your boyfriend?’ says the girl beside him.

‘No.’  She explains, about it being a tradition.

‘Your future boyfriend.’

‘No,’ she says again, smiling.

 

The sky is brightening as she walks home from the bus stop.  The streets are deserted and she starts to dance, flowers in hand.  At her gate, she looks up and notices the wave-like structure of the roof, silhouetted black against the sky: a deep, beautiful blue.

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Tech-y issues mean I find myself reading old blog posts.CC Image courtesy of {Lina} on Flickr

‘…and, bottom line, we need to have a laugh together.’

I smile.  No change there.

 

‘I’m going to a ball on Friday and I can’t wait!  My partner – oh….’ I sigh.  You’d sigh.  He’s tall, dark, and impossibly handsome.  ‘And he can dance ballroom!

‘What’s wrong with him?!’

A fair question from Colleague.

‘Nothing!’

That I know of.

The last time I saw Johann was at a ball.  We danced foxtrot, but it was like no foxtrot I’ve ever danced before, full of dips and spins and drops.  After each dance he queued to get me a glass of water.  Then when I left my dress strap in his room – not what it sounds like – he went to considerable trouble to ensure we were reunited.

‘He has the most beautiful manners,’ I say, with another sigh.  ‘Not like…’

My face darkens.  Being ditched on my birthday, I can handle.  OK, so the timing could have been better, but the act itself is forgivable.  What’s not forgivable is the absence of any kind of thank you note for the dinner.  No text, no letter, no card – nothing.

‘But at least, this way, it makes it easier to move on, cos, well, you don’t want that.’

‘No,’ Colleague says, with a look of disgust.  ‘You don’t.’

 

It’s in the kitchen for some reason that thoughts of FFS come to me.

‘No NO.  Don’t think about him,’ I say out loud, clattering pots and pans, as if the noise might drown out unwelcome thoughts.

I’d read about focusing on someone’s bad points as an effective way of getting over them but had never managed to make it work for me – not because I refused to believe that the men in question had bad points, but because I didn’t know them well enough to know what they were, not having dated any of them.

‘He’s lazy and RUDE,’ I say, to the empty kitchen.

And with those words it’s confirmed, what I always knew, my actual bottom line.

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‘You look nice!’CC Image courtesy of El Bibliomata on Flickr

‘Thanks!’  I take a seat.  ‘There’s a reason.’

‘Ooh!’

‘Not that.’

‘I want to hear it.’

We order coffee.

‘Do you have a d-?’

‘No, it’s the opposite of that.  I’m going to something tonight which the guy who recently called things off will probably be at.  So I need to look good.’

‘Well, you do.  You look good, but not like you’re trying.’

I laugh.  ‘That’s exactly what I was going for!’

*

Hostess of Carrier Pigeon fame opens the front door to me.  ‘Hello!’

‘Hello!’

We kiss on the cheeks.

‘You’ve got cold hands!’

‘Oh it’s fine,’ I say.  ‘I took the scenic route from Victoria – but at least it was actually scenic!’

She’d changed the start time at the last minute, so I had twenty minutes to kill in the West End.  That, or risk arriving early and finding myself forced to make awkward conversation with FFS.

‘Could I put my…?’

‘Of course.’  She shows me through to the bedroom.  The last time I was in here, I was gathering together coat and bag.

‘Walk me to the station?’

‘Of course.’

‘That’s an order,’ I said jokingly, putting my hand on FFS’ lapel.

I don’t think he liked being told what to do, even in jest.

The night air was cold, and we walked close, my hand in his, tucked into the pocket of his coat for warmth.  He tried to persuade me to stay at his, but I would go home.  We kissed on the pavement.  I nearly missed my train.

 

I can hear a man’s voice coming from the sitting room, but it’s not his.  Perhaps he’s late.  Perhaps he’s not invited.  Unlikely: they’re very close, in every sense.

The doorbell rings.  Voices on the stair.  A girl I know well comes in.  We chat about balls, past and future.  I’m going to one the following week with a guy I don’t know very well.  ‘He’s a dreamy dancer though and he knows ballroom so I can’t wait!’

The hostess’ phone vibrates at my elbow.  A familiar name flashes up on the screen, and she answers it.  Talking, she goes to the door.  Moments later, a guy – he must be mid-twenties – comes in.  He’s casually dressed in jumper and trousers.  We’re introduced.

‘You’re Maria’s cousin, is that right?’

‘No, well, we have a mutual cousin,’ he says.  ‘Have you met Will?’

Yes, I’ve met Will.  Met Will, kissed Will, been dumped by Will on my birthday: the works.

I learn in the course of the evening that Will’s abroad, presumably on holiday.  His cousin is pleasant enough, and a shrink would probably say I was guilty of transference.  It’s obvious though that whilst Will thought me sexy, funny and attractive, this guy is indifferent.  Which is fine, but by the end of the meal I’m feeling a bit sad.  I’ve worked my arse off to keep the conversation flowing and I haven’t laughed once, not really, not the way I laugh with Will.  I know, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, that I wanted him to be here.  I miss the jokes, the irreverence, the laughter.  It doesn’t grow on trees, that kind of chemistry.  He said it himself.

‘I liked you, and I thought we had chemistry.’

That’s why he got in touch in the first place.

He added.  ‘We have chemistry.’

‘Yes…’

 

The cousin and I leave at the same time, something Will and I failed to achieve the night we met.

‘Nice to meet you,’ he says on the doorstep.  ‘Have a good week.’

‘You too.’

He mounts his bike and sets off in the direction of the river.  I cut through the backstreets heading for the station, hands tucked into my pockets for warmth.

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CC Image courtesy of nic snell on FlickrWhen you’ve been single for as long as I have, the idea of walking into a room full of friends and acquaintances hand-in-hand with a guy, of kissing someone in front of them – it all feels like a big deal.  It’s as if, with that interlacing of fingers, that meeting of lips, you’re taking yourself off some kind of shelf, ruling out a whole host of other options.

Tuesday is a case in point.  I’m hovering at the bar, awaiting a glass of white.  Stephen arrives first.

‘I’m not getting you a drink!’ I say, with a laugh.

It’s a long story.

He looks mock-offended.  ‘I was going to ask if I could get you one.’

‘Oh!  Thanks, but not to worry – I’ve got one coming.’

There’s a bit of small talk, then he says,

‘So, what about you and boys? Anything going on?’

‘Errrr… umm…’

Experience tells me guys like Stephen don’t ask this question out of polite curiosity, which is confusing.  I’ve known him for getting on for a year.  We met at a dance and continued to see each other quite often, usually fleetingly, whilst moving at speed to music.  Recently I’d found myself seated next to him at a dinner party and had a ball.  Then, at an actual ball, I discovered his fun side and together we danced the night away.  But not once in that time has he shown any interest in me other than as a dance partner, so this is disconcerting.

But even more disconcerting, and the real reason I’m now doing fish out of water – where is my wine?! I need something to do whilst I figure out what to say! – is that, for the first time in a long time, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question.  If I didn’t fancy Stephen, I would just say ‘yes’, think of FFS, smile goofily, and go on my way.  But I don’t do this.

‘…errr…’ I scratch my head. ‘Umm…’

Time for the good old-fashioned turnaround.

‘… I don’t know.  What about you?’

He too ums and ahs for a moment before concluding, ‘It’s complicated, and no.’

‘Yeah, same, sort of, no, I don’t know.  I don’t know!’

Articulate or what?  Evidently I don’t want to rule out an option, not until I know what the deal is.

‘I’m sorry, is this a difficult question?  Would you rather I asked you about books?  Have you read anything good recently?’

No, I wouldn’t rather he asked about books, because books make me think of FFS which in turn makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

He looks past me to the sofas.  ‘Would you like to sit down?’

That’s an easy one.  ‘Yes!’

So we do.  Now he begins in earnest, with the body language and the subtle flirting and the compliments etc.  More disconcerting by the minute.  And it doesn’t help that Sam, Rachel, Freddie… oh loads of people I know have a ringside seat.

*

‘Shall we get the tube?’

What’s strangest about the way events are unfolding is that this is exactly how I’d like things to have played out with so many people in the past, but now that it’s happening with Stephen….

 

The next train isn’t due for five minutes.

‘What’s the most fun thing you can think of doing for five minutes?’

I’d say that, had this line come from FFS or Matthew or Tristan, I would have loved it; but that’s not true – or rather, it’s not their style.

‘Dancing!’ I say, feeling a bit sorry for the guy.  I’m not making it easy for him, but then I don’t think I want to.

He takes me into hold.  The train comes; we board.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried waltzing on the Circle line but that evening, for the first time, I did.  It should have felt like all my Christmases had come at once but something about it doesn’t feel right.  I’m not relaxed, I’m definitely not drunk enough, and when he suggests going for a drink sometime, I’m faking it, kind of.

‘Yes!’

Because I’m too much of a coward to say what I feel.

 

We’re approaching his stop.

‘So, how about that drink?’

‘Yes,’ I say again, though with less conviction than before.

The train pulls into the platform; the doors open.

‘This is you, right?’ I say.

‘Yes.’

‘Well, goodnight.’  I lean in to kiss him on the cheek.

‘You’re not coming for that drink?’

It’s gone midnight on a weekday, so no, Cinderella is not ‘coming for that drink’.

I glance at my watch. ‘I have to go home.’

We say goodnight in the doorway, then he’s off.  I settle back into a seat, thinking and probably saying aloud, ‘WTF?!’.  Part of me wonders what FFS would say if I told him about the events of the evening.  I can’t know for sure, but it would almost certainly make me laugh.

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