A restaurant. The lighting is low, there is candlelight. Muzak pipes out of unseen speakers. Save for the waiter absentmindedly picking his teeth with a taxi firm’s business card, this is a perfect romantic setting.
Of course, I didn’t pick the venue. I like my restaurants either comfortingly luxurious or the type of joint where you gnaw through an overcooked chicken brochette on an upturned tea chest. This middle-of-the-road suburban eatery isn’t what I’d normally go for.
I can’t help but think it is a shame he’s picked somewhere so romantic as I am about to do the least romantic thing you can do on a date. If the night goes the way I have planned – which is not at all, really – I will be leaving this place single again and free to have a pudding elsewhere.
It’s not that he isn’t nice enough – maybe he’s too nice – but he is not for me. As I wearily toil my way through just about every cardigan wearer and documentary lover on Guardian Soulmates, I have come to know quickly what will work and what won’t.
Sure, I could give them a bit longer and warm to them, but I don’t to warm to somebody like an old stew being given a stir on a low light, I want instant heat, an attraction that burns at volcanic temperatures and so brightly it blinds everyone who dare look up from their copy of Metro. I will come to discover one day that I may well be on a hiding to nothing with that criteria, but that is in the future and as I sit awaiting my date – late, like I need another reason to get rid – the future is exactly what I am hoping to change tonight. He sees me in his, and, well, I beg to differ.
He arrives, all smiles and nervous apologies, orders a drink before he has sat down and takes off his coat, a huge designer number in a beautiful colour I won’t see in normal shops for another two years. As he removes his layers, he lightly splashes me with rain that must have started while I’d been waiting. His eyes, bright blue, are huge. I recognise that look; I have seen it once or twice before. He’s pleased to see me. In his ignorance, he’s glad he schlepped out in the rain to come and meet me, an even bigger raincloud clad in H&M and armed with fatal disappointment.
There’s a menu in his hand but it’s just binary with added vowel upon vowel and all I can focus on is my empty glass. I signal to the waiter for another and he puts aside his plaque-filled piece of card and slopes to the bar to grab me another beer.
The date is talking and I answer but I don’t really know what I’m saying and he touches my hand and I don’t move it away and all the time I am drifting, drifting, drifting away to two hours in the future when I am leaving the restaurant alone, pulling up the collar of my jacket and stalking out into the night, away from the romance and the candlelight and the hope-drenched eyes.
“So what do you think?” he says jolting me out of my trance and bringing me right back in the moment. I blink and look around me then down at the table. He’s still touching my hand. Then he removes it.
“Are you OK?” he asks. Eyes huge again.
“Yes,” I reply, dazed. How long did my out of body experience last?
He is talking again. Now I listen. “I just think it’s for the best,” he is saying. “There’s a bond there and I can’t really imagine there ever not being one.”
“So, y’know.” He touches my hand again. “I’ve had a lot of fun with you, but I think my future’s with Steven. Though I’d really like it if we could be friends.”
Hang the fuck on.
“I mean, it wasn’t anything serious was it?” he continues as I gape. “Just a few dates. You either click with someone or you don’t, right? I think we’re better off as mates.”
I compose myself. “You’re, erm saying we’re not… erm. You’re getting back with your ex?’
His smile is fixed. He can’t wait for this to be over. “Yes, is that OK? What do you think?” His eyes aren’t big with affection – it’s worry, guilt.
I nod slowly. “Cool.”
And we decide not to eat, because he thinks I “need some time to digest things” and I try to make a joke about not eating and digestion but the will has left me and within 20 minutes I am out in the rain, by myself, and I pull my collar up and hunch up my shoulders and head off into the dark. And it feels darker than it ever has been before. I’m supposed to feel good – this is where I saw myself, albeit an hour or so in the future and with a full belly.
Rejection stings twice as hard when it’s from somebody you never wanted anyway. I’m supposed to be striding off triumphantly leaving the debris behind me. The fucker stole my moment.
Shrugging off the pain of a thousand paper cuts and the shame of a hundred disgraced royals, I learn another lesson. Next time, don’t wait for him to take his coat off – he’s going to need it.