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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Remembering Sunday

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CC Image courtesy of ReeseCLloyd on Flickr‘I’m going to church on Sunday morning.  Join me?’

I can’t tell if Beatrice is joking, but either way…

‘I’ve timetabled a hangover for Sunday morning.  Sorry.’

‘A HANGOVER?’

Last time she checked, I didn’t really drink, and certainly never to the point of being hungover.  But then a few things happened…

I found a drink I like which I can order without getting weird looks from the bar staff.

I drank a couple of them one night and came dangerously close to kissing a guy I’ve liked for a long time.

I had the best night of my time in London so far, in the course of which I discovered I also like rum.

 

A week later, at 3am, in a flat somewhere near Victoria, I discover I also like white wine, though I forget to check which grape.

 

Later that day, I get the train home.  My mother meets me at the station.

‘You look nice!’ I say.  ‘Is the skirt new?  I haven’t seen it before.’  I start to laugh.  ‘Have – have you been to church?’

My mother laughs.  It’s one of our jokes: whenever we’re trying to justify a clothes purchase, we say it will be good for church.  She at least still goes from time to time.

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

She raises her eyebrows a fraction – she’s good at that.  ‘You know it’s–?’

‘Remembrance Sunday.  Yes, of course.’

I feel a wave of guilt.  Things start to fall into place: streets oddly quiet in the mid-morning sun, an invitation to church…

 

I enter the kitchen to find my brother and father discussing the morning sermon.  My brother breaks off to say:

‘How was last night?’

‘Yeah, good thanks.’

‘Did you have a few drinks?’

‘Might have had a few drinks.’

It’s a strange role reversal.

I take a seat.  ‘How was church?’

Really strange.

CC Image courtesy of Sherlock77 (James) on Flickr



The Games We Play

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CC Image courtesy of theuptownlife on FlickrWe’re playing ‘Never Have I Ever’.  Well, the others are.  I’m sipping white wine at random intervals, and getting all sorts of funny looks.  I appeal to Sandwich Guy, sitting to my left, for an explanation of the rules.

Somebody makes a statement.

‘So,’ I say, glass in hand, ‘I drink if…?’

Sandwich Guy explains.

‘Oh right – then no.’  I put my glass down.

‘No?’ he says.  ‘What about Freddie?’

What do you care?  You ditched me for prawn.

‘Oh – no,’ I say.

He looks surprised.  ‘What, never?’

Blimey.

‘No, never.  Why?  Does it look like…?’

‘Well, you’re a natural couple – I mean, you’re obviously great friends.’

He actually said ‘great chums’, but it wouldn’t do to alienate readers.

‘Yes, we are, but – no, we’ve never been involved.’

‘Oh.  I just thought – because you’re a natural couple…’

You already said that.

‘Hmmm, well, no.’

‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘people probably say this to you all the time.’

‘No, you’re the first actually.’

CC Image courtesy of lincolnblues on Flickr

The next day, I’m having coffee with Beatrice.  I glance at my phone.

‘That’s weird – I’ve got a missed call from Sandwich.’

We’re on first name terms: Beatrice, Sandwich, and I.

‘Oh!  Why would he ring you?’ she says.

‘I don’t know.  I’ll ring him back in a bit…’

She walks with me back to the flat.  We agree that it’ll save us a Skype chat if I ring Sandwich then and there.

‘Hello,’ he says.  ‘How are you?  How was the rest of your night?’

Small talk ensues.

‘I only rang because…’

It’s a flimsy excuse: he wants to check the date of a dance practice.  I thank him for a dinner party he gave earlier in the week.

‘… but I’ll write, of course,’ I finish up.

‘Really no need.’

‘No I will – I like writing!’

He doesn’t know about the blog.

‘I know,’ he says.

But I might have let slip during ‘Never Have I Ever’ that I’ve dabbled in erotic fiction.

He asks where it’s been published.  I deflect the question.

‘And anyway, I write under a pseudonym.’

‘Oh – of course.  What’s your pseudonym?’

I laugh.  Beatrice rolls her eyes.

‘I’ll see you on Thursday then,’ I say.

I hang up.

‘Well?’ she says from the sofa.

‘He wanted to know about dance practices this week.’

‘Why did he need to ring you for that?’

I can’t help smiling.

‘I dunno.’

CC Image courtesy of William Arthur Fine Stationery on Flickr