The Moment I Knew

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CC Image courtesy of noodlepie on FlickrEvery time I try to play Mrs. Dalloway and have people round for dinner, it goes wrong. Last time I was mid break-up, though I didn’t know it for sure until the other party knocked on the front door, wine bottle in hand. I opened it, he crossed the threshold and kissed me on the cheek. And that was when I knew. I’d gone for the lips – that was what we did. I pretended not to notice or care and led him through to the sitting room. I couldn’t look at him though, and didn’t really know what I was saying as I introduced him to one of my best friends and her other half. The first chance I got I escaped to the kitchen and remained there for as much of the evening as possible.

So this time I invite couples. Safe, right? Wrong.

‘I don’t want to sound like someone with Asperger’s,’ I say to Gus at the desk opposite, ‘as in, I’m aware that the real tragedy here is that the couple is having issues…’

That’s not the real tragedy.

‘…and not that I don’t know how many crisps to order!’

That’s not the real tragedy either. No, the real tragedy as Neighbour wouldn’t hesitate to point out at great length is that millions of people around the world have no food at all. And I’m fretting about the guest list for a dinner party.

Gus looks sympathetic.

 

That night I get in late, too late to make the pudding for the following evening as planned. There’s a text on my phone from Neighbour, unanswered, and a draft reply, unsent. I consider the draft a while, move the sentences around, but it’s no good. This isn’t like one of my work marketing emails: it’s not the phrasing that’s wrong, it’s the medium. I delete the whole thing and dash off a question in its place.

Ten minutes later I’m sitting on Neighbour’s sofa, politely listening to his flatmate talking about farming practices in Australia – or pretending to while actually wondering if Neighbour can sense what’s coming. A short while later the flatmate goes up to bed. I turn to my neighbour – in every sense of the word – take a deep breath and begin.

CC Image courtesy of tubb on Flickr

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Like Lovers Do

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‘… and I remain not in love.’CC Image courtesy of furibond on Flickr

This is the bad news. But we’re only 15 minutes into a 45-minute conversation. I’m not feeling great, obviously, and he’s sounding increasingly uncertain to the point that he wants to tell me – he does tell me that he’s confused in his own feelings. He really likes me, and tells me so several times. He thinks I’m witty and beautiful. If I can’t do what we’re doing could I find a way to being friends at some point? But no, he says in answer to his own question, you’ve said no to friends.

The idea of being friends with someone I fancy as much as I do VP makes me shudder. I can barely refrain from kissing him when we are together and it’s OK for me to do so; the idea of making polite chit-chat over herbal tea doesn’t bear thinking about. No, this has to be a clean break, for now anyway. Perhaps, I find myself thinking, when I’m happily married to Tristan with three children, and the back catalogue of Country Life in the downstairs loo (joke), I would be able to see VP. But even I know that’s a terrible idea. We were never friends. I love the way he kisses me, the way he invades my personal space, how he says ‘tell me’ when I begin a story, at once fierce and gentle. The things I love about him are what lovers do, not friends.

So I say no to friends. And no when he asks if we could speak again soon.

‘Do you think at some point in the future,’ he says, ‘when you’ve got five kids and you’re incredibly wealthy… and successful… and happy, we might be able to have a peppermint tea together?’

What is it with him and herbal tea?! He doesn’t even like tea! And neither do I.

‘That’s a lot of hypotheticals,’ I say, again thinking of Tristan. ‘I don’t know… maybe….’

This is when I start thinking about how to shut down the conversation without resorting to When Harry Met Sally sound bites. And I’m assuming from his mutterings that he’s doing the same thing. There’s a pause, then he says in a different tone of voice, clear and precise:

‘I’m moving back to London.’

I half-laugh. ‘What?’

‘Early next year.’

He tells me about the new job and his plans for the intervening months. I let him speak, prompting with the occasional question. I don’t know why he’s telling me, or what to feel.

 

A short while later and again I’m casting about for suitable parting words.

‘We’ll see…’ I begin. The sentence peters out.

‘Yes, see you.’

He must have misheard, must have thought I said ‘I’ll see you’. I want to put him right, I want honesty and truth to carry through right to the end. But I stop myself. Perhaps this way is better, a white lie.

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Shoot Me

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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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Damn You

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Damn youCC Image courtesy of Scottmga on Flickr

Damn you

Damn you to Hell,

Did you have to be so bloody

Wonderful?

I wish to God I’d never met you

Never kissed you

Never held you in my arms.

Damn you

Damn you

DAMN YOU

My fellow non-believer

Damn you.

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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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