An Ideal Husband

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CC Image courtesy of DavidInc on Flickr

Several things happen.  In the cloakroom, I bump into Hannah.

‘I saw Freddie’s mother yesterday,’ she says, ‘and she was telling me about the time she rescued you or something?’

I roll my eyes. ‘Oh God.  She always goes on about–.’

‘And she was saying how she thought you’d be the perfect husband for him.’

‘Husband?’

‘Wife, sorry – the perfect wife for Freddie.’

‘Oh – right.’  I frown.  ‘She always talks about the time – it was very kind of her – basically I’d locked myself out of my flat and it was freezing and she came and picked me up.  But she always mentions it, every time I see her!’

Hannah laughs.  ‘She always will.’

‘I know you’re right.’

Freddie’s mother will still be telling that story when we’re old and grey, have five children and a house full of dusty books.  Oh wait…

*

‘How goes your mission?’

The official challenge might be over, but my dating days hopefully are not; and Rachel and I have set ourselves the task of finding a date in the course of the evening.

I look past her, towards Hannah’s table. ‘Hmm. I just bumped into a friend of Freddie’s. Apparently his mother thinks I’d be a good wife for him.’ I laugh. ‘Now all we need is for Freddie to come round to her way of seeing things!’

Rachel frowns. ‘Do you like Freddie?’

I think for a moment. ‘I used to, a lot. I think I’ve accepted that he doesn’t see me that way, but well, at one point it looked like he did – no he did, judging by his behavior, but when we talked about it he said…’

The music comes on for the next dance.

I shrug. ‘I think we’d be good together.’

We go off in search of our partners.

Passing one of the tables, I notice a guy I’ve never met, but who I feel like I know.  There’s a spark of recognition in his face also.

 

Then there’s Todd.  Who I know I have chemistry with.  And who I know knows it.  I join him in the breakfast queue.  I say ‘in it’.  He’s accidentally on purpose jumped to the front.

‘Do you think it’s OK if I join you here?’ I say.

The couple behind us look amenable enough, whilst pointing out that they are not the end of the queue – it snakes back some way.  Todd feigns innocence, and we thank the couple for letting us in.

‘Sorry do you mind…?’

This time it’s Todd who is amenable, and lets the guy get to the scrambled egg.

Laughing, I say, ‘We’d be hypocrites to say no, being queue-jumpers ourselves.’

Todd laughs.

‘I’m very stealth, aren’t I?!’

He scoops egg onto his plate. ‘You’d be a rubbish spy!’

I laugh.  Plates in hand, we make our way back to the table.  I liked him when we met, two years ago now.  And I like him still.

 

‘There’s a guy here, and it’s a bit weird, cos, well, we have a bit of history…’

By which I mean, I added him on Facebook after we met at a party (the hostess kept introducing us to each other, and each time we pretended we hadn’t met before), and he struck up a conversation… before going MIA.

‘… that is, I think he liked me at one point – no I know he did, a bit – but well, he’s engaged…’

‘No. Just no, Anna.  You don’t want to be that girl.’

Rachel’s been abroad for a bit.  I’ve missed her no-nonsense manner.

‘No,’ I say.

‘Wait til he’s married, then you can be that girl.’

Ooooook.

 

We dance, Todd and I, and I try not to flirt. Because, well, his fiancée is next to me in the set, and, well, he has a fiancée!!!!  Suddenly a guy ‘having a girlfriend’ doesn’t seem like that much of a big deal.

 

On the stairs, I see the guy from before.  I know who he is – I knew immediately on seeing him.  He’s a bit shorter than I expected, and looks quieter, nicer.  We exchange faint smiles.

CC Image courtesy of RozSheffield on Flickr



Something Blue

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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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The Other Option

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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.

CC Image courtesy of Toni Blay on Flickr

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Winging It

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‘Come on!’CC Image courtesy of Jamilson Junior on Flickr

Sally steers me in the direction of a guy who looks vaguely like the hot one from One Direction.  His head is a mass of curls – what is it with me and big hair?! – and I like his style on the dance floor.  I resist her pull.

‘Errr… I’m not sure.’

She wants to play wing woman.  I can only see this ending badly.  Sally is blonde, bubbly, incredibly sweet – all the things I’m not, and all the things I imagine the One Direction lookalike, and any straight-thinking male for that matter, would go for.

‘It’ll be fine!’ she says.  ‘I’m good at this!’

*

An hour later, I’m walking to the bus stop flanked by Freddie and Sam.

‘Olly was nice,’ Freddie says.

‘Yes.  I think he liked Sally.’

‘Oh.’

Silence.

‘Yeah,’ I go on, ‘she’s a very charming wing woman – rather too charming I think!’  I laugh, but I don’t feel very happy.  ‘It’s hardly surprising.  She’s very attractive.  If I was a guy, I’d probably fancy her.’

Again, silence.

‘I think,’ Freddie says, looking over at Sam, ‘what she wants us to say is that she’s more attractive than Sally.’

I laugh.  ‘No.’

Well, yes, but only if it’s true.  What I actually want right now is for it to be true, or for the last hour to not have happened.  I’m mature like that.

Sam mumbles for a bit in a Hugh Grant-esque kind of a way, before concluding, ‘What I’m trying to say, is that, where Sally’s concerned, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.’

I frown.  ‘Hmm I think you’re biased.’

Clearly he can’t win.

‘He probably thinks you’re too good for him!’ Freddie says.

Sam looks impressed.  ‘That’s very good.  I wish I’d thought of that!’

We laugh.

‘You’re funny,’ I say, ‘but I don’t think people think like that.  I mean, I don’t believe that would stop a guy from trying it on.  It might stop him from succeeding, but not trying.’

We walk on in silence.  At the fork in the path, we say goodnight.  Sam strides off to the right, whilst Freddie and I cross the park.  In the distance I fancy I can hear Sally’s tinkling laugh.

CC Image courtesy of jikido on Flickr



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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