Perfect Strangers

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CC Image courtesy of ketrin1407 on FlickrMatthew’s reply is, of course, perfect.  He would have loved to have come, but can’t because of a clash (family commitments, aw).  He would however love to meet up.

Of all the men I contact, he’s the only one to say this.  Nice Guy and Swiss National are non-committal in a ‘thanks and have a nice life’ kind of a way.  Benedict being Benedict is effusive in his regrets…

He begins by suggesting I drop by where he works for a drink on the way home, then tells me he’s just moved to my neighbourhood so we must meet up soon, and sends me his mobile number for ease of contact. Coming from any other man, this medley of attentions would have had me dancing naked down Oxford Street.  But Benedict, like I said, is Benedict, and in Narnia they do things differently.


I don’t reply to Matthew’s message until my birthday a.k.a. The Apocalypse has been and gone.  The balance of my mind has been restored, and I’m probably a little bit more cynical about love stuff than I was twenty-four hours before.


There’s a scene in Sex & The City, where Carrie is running to a first date.  She bumps into her ex on the sidewalk.

‘I had a baby!’ he says.

‘I have a date!’


Small talk ensues.

‘Good to see you,’ she says, looking up at him.

‘You too.  We should get together and have coffee sometime, and catch up.’

‘Yeah, great!  OK we’ll do that.’

As Carrie walks away, the voiceover comes in: there is the type of date you can’t wait to keep, and the type of date you both know you’ll never keep.


Part of me – the cynical, pessimistic part that’s big on self-preservation – reckons that ‘meeting up’ with Matthew is like Aidan and Carrie’s coffee: it will never happen.  And with that in mind, I reply, saying it would be great to catch up, perhaps one night after work, and to let me know when would be good for him.

CC Image courtesy of Daremoshiranai on Flickr

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CC Image courtesy of srsldy on FlickrMonday evening, my brother comes round.  I’m looking forward to having a shoulder to cry on.

‘It probably wasn’t a good idea to invite the guy,’ he says, when I tell him about the events of the weekend.


He’s touched a nerve, so much so that I forget to cry, I’m too busy being indignant.  Despite my mother’s assurances that I did nothing wrong in inviting the guy to my birthday celebrations, there’s a nagging doubt in my head, the feeling that I brought this all on myself.

Five minutes of denial later…

‘OK, so perhaps you shouldn’t invite someone you’re dating to your birthday…’

‘No, it’s fine to,’ he says, ‘it’s just, if you don’t know them very well, or if you’re not sure how things are between you… the danger is it will make the event all about them, when the focus should be the event itself.’

He’s well wise, my bro.

‘I know.  But, when I invited him, everything was fine!  I couldn’t have known…’

‘Oh, right, then… you were just unlucky.’

I spread my hands.  ‘Admittedly by mid-week, what with radio silence etc, I thought, were it not for the dinner party, I wouldn’t be hearing from him again.  But I didn’t know what to do!  I could hardly un-invite him!’

No.  Instead what I did was issue an invitation to pretty much every guy I’ve ever fancied, so that if FFS did show and everything went tits up, I would be sufficiently distracted not to notice.  Which, as a strategy, might have worked, if any of them had been able to come.

Swiss National, Nice Guy, Benedict… the declines come thick and fast, and in the case of Benedict, couched in wonderfully eloquent language.  Last on my list of men to contact is Matthew.

CC Image courtesy of Oskar Ferm on Flickr

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Anywhere But Here: Part II

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(Continued from Anywhere But Here: Part I)CC Image courtesy of Xeusy on Flickr

Lucy and I chat over cheese.  Benedict sits in silence nearby, occasionally eating from the plate of brownies at his elbow.

Just as Lucy turns to say something to Freddie, Benedict slides the plate across the floor until it’s right in front of me.

‘Thanks, I’m still on the cheese.’

He slides it away from us, then back towards himself.

‘It’s like a Ouija board!’ I say, laughing.  ‘A more exciting version.’

His face creases into a devastating smile.  He picks a bunch of grapes off the cheeseboard, puts it on my plate, then does the same with a piece of brownie.

I laugh again.  ‘I feel like a dog!’

He too laughs and takes a grape.  I wish I knew what was going on behind those eyes.

Our conversation becomes more flirty.  As the level in my wine glass drops, so does my guard.  I have no point of reference.  That is, people have told me things about him, about how he’s hopelessly in love with someone back in London who doesn’t return his affections (aren’t we all?), but nothing concrete.

He’s asking if I’ve been to an exhibition of etchings which he’s heard is good.  I haven’t, but it’s near where I live so I should check it out.

‘We should do an organised outing!’

The suggestion comes from a girl who’s overheard the end of our conversation.  She gives me a significant look. Yesterday she talked about being my wing woman.  Today she feels like a rival.

Benedict looks struck by the idea, as if it hadn’t occurred to him.  I’m not entirely convinced, but give a non-committal smile.


People are piling into the car, everyone except Benedict who has a train to catch.  We hug.

‘I hope to see you in London,’ I say.

Or Camelot, or Narnia…

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Lucy pops her head round the door.CC Image courtesy of Reenen on Flickr

‘Has everyone got a drink?’

‘Oh God, sorry!’ I jump up, grab her glass and the bottle.  ‘I never…’

I follow her through to the kitchen, pour her a drink, and set about prepping the cheeseboard.  I’ll apologise to Benedict later, I think to myself as I wash the grapes, for dashing off when he was mid-sentence.  It’s probably for the best though.  I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours trying – and according to Freddie failing – not to look at Benedict in an adoring way.  Now I’m looking at cheese in an adoring way whilst chatting to Lucy, and it’s much less draining.  Tomorrow I’ll email my mother and ask her how one participates in a social engagement without constantly desiring the attention of a tall, sensitive musician with cheekbones fit for the catwalk.

I look round to see Benedict, all 6ft5 of him, enter the kitchen.  Next thing I know he’s found the grater and is making short shrift of a block of cheddar.  I’m surprised.  I’d thought him the kind of guy who’d be perfectly happy kicking back on the sofa, life and dinner party prep passing him by.

‘Sorry,’ Lucy says to me, ‘when you got the invitation to dinner you probably didn’t think you’d end up in the kitchen!’

‘No, I like it!’ I say.  ‘It might sound weird but I almost prefer it, having a use.’

‘So do I.’

I glance over at the speaker.  He’s finished grating cheese and is busy arranging flowers in a makeshift vase.  Task complete, he wanders over to where I’m standing.  He takes a grape from the washed bunch, and eats it.

‘Oi!’  It’s hardly a reprimand.  He reaches for another; I brush his hand away.  ‘You can have one of those,’ I say, pointing to the packet, ‘but they’re not washed.’

He looks at the wrapper.  ‘But they are “sweet and succulent”, so that’s fine.’

I smile.  ‘Sorry for dashing off earlier by the way.  I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be getting Lucy a drink.  You – you were saying…’

Under the intense gaze of amber eyes, I’ve little to no chance of remembering.

He half-smiles. ‘What was I saying?’

‘I think you were telling me where you’re from – to check you were from the right…’

‘World’ is on the tip of my tongue, meant as an (admittedly lame) joke, but the problem is, well, it’s just way too close to the bone.  There’s something otherworldly about this guy.  He belongs in Camelot or Narnia or… anywhere but here.  So instead I say,

‘… part of the world.’

And end up sounding like a snob.  We joke about my choice of words.  How can someone so ethereal be at the same time witty, sharp, charming…?  Inwardly I curse Freddie.  He’d put us next to each other at dinner the night before.  When it came to rotating for the second course, Freddie took his place.

‘What are you going to call him?’


‘In the blog?  Have you chosen a name yet?’

I give him a dewy smile.  ‘Very funny.’

‘What?!  Everyone’s in on it!’

‘What do you mean?!’

I’m enjoying myself, of course.  Freddie doesn’t answer.

I glance round the table.  ‘What do you mean, everyone’s in on it?’

He laughs.  ‘No, not really.  Just, someone said to me earlier that you looked like you were getting on well, and I said, don’t worry, they’re sitting next to each other at dinner.’

I look across the table at Benedict.  He’s chatting and laughing with another girl.

‘Well, they’re getting on well too.’

‘She’s not looking at him the way you were though.’


‘And he’s not looking at her the way he was looking at you.’

I say nothing, but drink from my wine glass.


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