The big night had finally arrived, and as she exited the station and walked down the drying rain-washed pavement, she tried to calm herself down so she wouldn’t start to sweat. She was on the late side of fashionably late, and as much as she was in a hurry, the last thing she wanted was to arrive with damp spots under her arms.
She’d been getting ready since the late afternoon; a long bath after an exfoliation, an application of body lotion after the bath, a facial cleanse, tweezing, hair and make-up. She was a master in the art of make-up. The finer points of her face were all accentuated; the high cheek bones higher, the rounded, fine eyebrows finer, the pouty, red lips fuller and redder.
The match had happened over two months beforehand. She had been ready to swipe right after the first pic; that slick brown hair and hazel eyes, the strong, tanned forearms. He was just her type, but in any case she’d flicked through the rest of his pics, just to be sure.
Within a few minutes of walking she saw the bar on the other side of the road, as he’d said it would be; A patio area under a beige awning extending from the brick wall (crowded with people – the late twenties, early thirties crowd), and a corner door under a beige column with the name of the bar painted in white.
Her heart was pounding as she walked past the people on the patio, keeping her posture in check, with her back straight and her head high, one hand gripping the wooden, crook handle of her compact umbrella and the other, the padded leather of her clutch. A mantra was repeating in her head: Cool confident classy. A bit cheesy she knew, but it worked for her.
She scanned the patio for him while gauging by the other women’s outfits whether she was over-dressed, under-dressed, or just right, breathing easier when she’d decided she was on the better side of just-right. Confident he wasn’t on the patio (people can look slightly different in real life than in their photographs) she opened the door, taking-in the interior through its glass pane.
It was a small room with a bar at the back and benches lining the mirrored walls. Tables and chairs crowded the limited floor space. A chime was ringing out above the low music as she stepped inside and closed the door, causing a split-second gap in the hum of conversation as all eyes glanced at her.
The intimidation factor was almost too much, but her mantra did its job and she kept a calm front, and looked for Chris, who she saw (in the same muscle gripping, red, white and green top he wore in one of his photos on the app) sitting between two men. He didn’t look at her then, although she was sure he had as she closed the door. He seemed to be in deep conversation. She didn’t know what to do. Was he short sighted? Didn’t he recognise her? Did he not want to acknowledge her?
There was no way she was going to approach him, especially when he was in company. A part of her wanted to go straight back out the door again (the self-saboteur part, as it was called in so many of the books she’d read) but they’d been getting on so well that she wasn’t going to give up just like that. Spotting a lone stool at the bar, she took a seat, feeling the familiar weight of perspiration seeping through the thick foundation on her face and forehead. It had been brought on by the combination of the brisk walk, coming into a hot room out of the
cold, and the slight humiliation of not being immediately recognised.
Before she had even got comfortable the barman was over at her, but she sent him away to give her time to decide, and pushed the stool into the corner to use the wall as a back rest, and have an open view of Chris. She surveyed the wine list and ordered a glass of South African Dry White, and went hot in the face when it was poured from a screw-top in plain sight of everyone.
Sitting there, sipping slowly while looking at Chris from the corner of her eye, she subtly tried to gain his attention. He kept looking at his watch, and when he got up along with the others at the table, she bounced forward to the edge of the stool, her feet poised on its rung, ready to run after him, but after shaking hands, the others left and he sat back down, looking around the room as he did so. His eyes met hers and she raised her arms as if to say, ‘look it’s me.’ And after peering at her for longer than seemed polite or necessary, unless he had vision problems he hadn’t told her about, he came over and apologised for not noticing her.
‘It’s okay,’ she said, trying to sound charming and positive. ‘You preferred to stay with your friends rather than the woman you were supposed to be meeting.’
‘Something like that,’ he mumbled.
‘Your pint’s still on the table, should we go and sit there?’ They went to his little table and she was glad he gave her the padded bench and took the small and frail looking chair. She sank down in the padding and felt the frame digging into the underside of her thighs. ‘These seats are so small,’ she said after an awkward silence, and couldn’t tell if his laugh was one of sarcasm or a gesture of agreement. ‘How’s your day been?’
He stared into his pint: ‘okay.’
She waited for him to continue, but he didn’t, so she spoke again: ‘Just okay? weren’t you going to the game? Who was it? The Bees?’
‘The Wasps against the Quins,’ he said, taking a big gulp from his glass. ‘Quins won.’
‘Thats good. That’s your team isn’t it?’ He still hadn’t looked up, and began fiddling with the beer mat:
‘Yes, it’s good. They have a chance of winning this season.
‘Cheers to that,’ she said, raising her glass. And without looking at her, barely lifting it from the table, he clinked his glass against hers then took another big gulp, leaving his glass half empty. She laughed nervously. This wasn’t going well. He had been so chatty on the app, how could he be so different in person? But knowing there’s a big difference between a written conversation, where one has the safety of time, distance and an electronic device between them and the person they’re talking to, she put his lack of social skills down to shyness, and decided to push harder. ‘You know, in some cultures its very rude not to look into each others’ eyes when you clink glasses together.’
He gave a chuckle and sneered as opposed to smiled. ‘So, who were the men with you? They went to the game?’
‘One of them went, the other must have watched it here, he was here when we arrived.’
‘I’d imagine the atmosphere there would have been a little bit better.’
‘Yes, of course.’ He brought the glass to his mouth and she watched in amazement as the rest of the lager disappeared.
‘Let me get you another,’ she said.
‘No, thanks, I’ve had too much already,’ he said, getting up. He shoved an arm into his jacket.
‘Come on, we just sat down.’
‘Really, I have to go. I have an early start tomorrow.’
She was determined to get a round in: ‘Please,’ she said. ‘Just one.’
He dropped his shoulders and sat back down with a sigh.
As she got up her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since lunch: ‘Hey,’ she said, an idea popping into her head. ‘I noticed they have wonderful looking scotch eggs at the end of the bar.’ A vision of his tanned, masculine hand easing a fork full of creamy scotch egg into her mouth, then dabbing her chin with a napkin, flashed in her mind. ‘How about we share one?’
‘No thanks,’ he said without looking at her.
She walked towards the bar, aware that there was an off-chance that he might be checking her out, and tried to project an image of sexiness as another mantra from one of her books replayed in her head: Sexy in, sexy out. She imagined tripping over and falling flat on her face. That would be something to tell the girls about, but it would be even better to let them know how he came to her rescue, wrapping those big muscular arms around her and helping her to her feet.
The toilet was to the left of the bar and she decided to use it while she was up, turning back to see if he was checking her out; she saw him shaking his head and laughing to himself in the mirror. As she struggled to pull down her jeans and reduction underwear in the tiny cubicle, she thought about how he hadn’t looked in her eyes since he saw her, how he had said he was going to give her a great big hug and a huge kiss whenever they met, but hadn’t so much as touched her; she considered his strange laughter and dull demeanor. It was all making her very uneasy.
She called the flat. Sarah answered. ‘He’s probably just shy. Keep calm and don’t get paranoid,’ she said. ‘Make sure it’s not a boring date. A good date is good and a bad date is a story to tell. Only from a boring date do you gain nothing.’
She really wanted to like him, and wanted him to like her, and Sarah had a point, so she decided to go out and suggest they start over, to tell him to forget whatever was troubling him and start afresh. She brought a pint of lager and a Sauvignon back to the table.
For the first time of the night he spoke unprompted: ‘What, no scotch egg?’ He might as well have stabbed her in the heart.
‘What’s your problem?’ she asked, slamming the glasses down. Her aggression caught him off guard and he reclined in his chair, creating distance.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘it’s just that, well…’
She stood, looking down at him. ‘Come on then, spit it out.’
He looked away. ‘Let’s just forget it. Come, have a seat.’
‘No I won’t have a seat. You’ve been weird the whole night. You were going to say something, so be a man and say it.’
His eyes fixed on the table and his shoulders dropped, he spoke in a hushed voice: ‘It’s just that I thought you would be smaller.’
She spoke through clenched teeth and unblinking eyes. Her hands balled into fists. ‘Smaller? so you’re saying I’m fat?’
He sighed, and after remaining silent for a while said, ‘I should have asked… I mean you only had face pics on there. I should have known you’d be a big girl, it’s one of the tell-tale-’
She slammed her hand on the table, thought about slapping him or throwing her wine in his face. She stared at him and he looked into her eyes with genuine compassion.
‘Maybe you should think about putting a full body pic on there, or a normal photo, not one taken from some obscure angle, and I think it’s best to remove, “what you see is what you get” from the caption. Quotes are silly anyway, all girls do it for some strange reason.’
She was in a rage now and wanted to scream at him but could only force a whisper through her clenched jaw and strained chest. ‘Fuck you,’ was all she said, and as he said sorry, she picked up her bag and umbrella and left, flinging the door against the wall with a thud that silenced all conversation in the bar, and left the chimes clanking together in semi-harmonic chaos. She held it together, walking in the same confident stride as she had walked in with, past the patio, past the takeaways and bus stops, through the gates of the station where a solitary guard nodded hello in his navy with red trim jacket, until she found an empty carriage, then cried her eyes out all the way to the apartment.
She had tried so hard, so fucking hard; the five AM runs through the empty streets so nobody would see her, the aerobic DVDs, the celeb diets, the self-improvement books; confidence building, conversation guides, philosophy, and she had come so close to being the confident, thin, celebrity-like person she wanted to be, but now this.
She thanked God that her flatmates were asleep when she got in, giving her time to come up with a suitable lie for what had happened tonight. In her room was her own personal fridge with its door barely visible behind meal plans, a forbidden food list, an exercise regime and magnets of topless male pop-stars, actors and models and bikini clad women.
She pulled off her skinny jeans (that she had to order online as her size wasn’t available on the high street), pulled off her reduction underwear and her brassiere, scrubbed the make-up from her face and opened the fridge. Behind a half-eaten cake, fizzy drinks cans, cheeses and biscuits was the freezer compartment. She picked out an ice cream tub that was missing its lid and grabbed hold of the spoon stuck inside, bending its handle until a frozen-solid lump broke away.
She stuffed it into her mouth and looked at herself in the mirror across the room. All five foot three and fifteen stone of her was illuminated in the darkness by the soft yellow light from the fridge, all her body’s folds and cellulite exposed, the contouring make-up removed along with any hint of a cheekbone or jawline; she admitted that he had had a point, that she had deceived him by hiding her true self behind the image of what she wanted to be.
The ice cream acted as a gag, preventing her sobs from reaching the ears of her flatmates. Her warm tears helped soften the ice cream in the tub, making it easier for her to dig the spoon in.