“Wow, this looks like a great restaurant. I’m Jane by the way, the waiter said that you were Paul and that you were by the bar, and here you are. You look great. A bit older than the photograph you posted. More mature, shall we say. I’ll just have a white wine actually. Dry. I’ve not had alcohol since …let me think…last night’s date actually. It’s OK. Bit of a stinker. I hope you last a bit longer than he did.
It took a few seconds for Paul to recover from his new date’s opening gambit. All his well-rehearsed opening lines suddenly redundant. She was stunning in more than looks, more even than the photograph on the website. Stunning as in stun-gun too, a weapon that renders men speechless, but only in as much as getting a word in edgeways.
“I’ve never actually been here before, but it has good reviews.” There, he was warming to the task now. He tried to catch the attention of the barman whilst thinking what else to add. His rehearsal in his mind's-eye had followed a linear path but within a minute of meeting he was digressing. But of course, she would want a drink at the bar first, he was thinking, when in his mind, she’d waited until they were seated at a table.
“Listen,” said Jane. “I was wondering if you were free a week on Friday?”
She was off again now thought Paul, he still hadn’t caught the barman’s attention and he was feeling flustered and not fully paying attention to Jane.
She powered on. “If the date goes well tonight, I wanted to schedule in some more.”
Paul’s waving the debit card in the direction of the barman was not having the desired effect. Jane’s words were slowly beginning to penetrate his brain.
“Only, here’s the thing. My parents are having a house warming party at their new house on September 14th and if you and I hit it off tonight and end up getting serious, that party would be the perfect opportunity for you to meet them, so I’d like to squeeze in about six dates beforehand, because if we don’t my parents might be sceptical of our relationship, which after you pop the question would make everyone a bit uncomfortable during the ceremony and that might carry on over into the honeymoon in the Maldives and most important more than anything, take its toll on little Josie-May.”
The debit card in Paul’s hand limply wilted towards the bar. “What?”
“What’s the matter?” Jane looked on the verge of being upset. “You don’t like the name Josie-May? Well, that’s ok, my second, third, fourth and fifth choices are: Bramley, Peach, Jordan and Jasmine.”
Paul looked around to see if he could catch the waiter’s eye, maybe the table would be ready? Maybe the ground might open up and swallow him? Anything would be preferable. “No. those are all great names but..”
“You have an accent. You’re not from around here, are you?
“I’m new to the area. I’m from Vancouver. I just got a job in town and am seeking more permanent lodgings.”
“Well, the accent is cute. We can work on it, I’m sure. I had elocution lessons as a child, so I know all the techniques. Something’s on your mind. I think it is always important to be honest with one another and you know you can always tell your little bunny rabbit anything.” She pinched his cheek whilst she said the last bit and revelled in his blushes.
Paul gathered himself. At the risk of upsetting her he actually would need to be honest. “The problem is that you seem to have our whole relationship mapped out. We’ve only just met and the only thing you haven’t mentioned is the wedding dress.”
Jane’s forehead creased and Paul worried that he may have said too much himself. He was about to apologise as per his usual gamma male characteristic, when she butted in; “Does that make you uncomfortable, because if it does, we could pick it out now.” Jane reached into her handbag and removed a Bride and Groom Direct brochure.
Finally, Paul caught the eye of the waiter who signalled them both across from the middle of the restaurant.
“Shall we?” Paul indicated the waiter and started across the floor. Jane followed but was still burrowing in her handbag. This continued as she sat opposite him, making the waiter who was proffering the wine list wait whilst she emptied tissues, her purse, a thick pen, a couple of tampons, her diary, shopping list, several receipts and an apple onto the table. Paul and the waiter exchanged glances before Paul took both menus, requested the house white and relieved the waiter.
“Have you lost something?” It seemed the obvious question. Paul was hoping it was not more brochures. She’d already left one on the bar and he was damned if he was going to remind her.
“It’s nothing. Well actually, it’s this pill I have to take, otherwise I get a little weird.”
“I noticed a pharmacy across the road before I came in here. We could save the table and …well, it’s only across the road.”
“Nah! It’s okay. It’s only a precautionary thing. Probably best if I don’t take it with wine anyway. It won’t kill me if I miss one night. I may just be a little off kilter, but I doubt you’ll notice. Whatever. Where were we?”
Jane started to reload her handbag and Paul felt he could master the conversation at last. “Maybe we should start over again, as though we only just met? I’m Paul by the way.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Paul. I’m Jane”
Good thought Paul, she’s taken his line. Now he just needed to slow things down a bit.
“Yes, it’s so awfully nice to meet you, Paul.” The sarcasm in her voice suddenly from nowhere, just as he was beginning to relax and get some control of the situation.
“Right, yes. Seriously.” He was stammering, telling himself to get a grip whilst not getting a grip.
And then Jane launched into a stream of different voices;
One second, she was giggly as though she’d already drunk the wine that had not yet arrived. “You’re funny, so cute”
Then gruff like a whiskey drinking chain-smoker; “He’s not cute, you just haven’t been out in a while.”
Followed by a hysterical Marilyn Monroe; “that is just not true. He is good looking though”
Then a jittery; “Shhhh, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
An aggressive voice from the same mouth said: “Stop. You’ll freak him out.”
Whilst a little girl’s voice followed with; “Don’t pick on me, you started it.”
Then, all motherly; “girls, don’t fight. What would your father say?”
And finally, he heard what the father would say; “Oh, let them fight.”
Paul was aware that the performance was attracting attention from other tables; “Are you OK?”
The aggressive voice replied; “You stay out of this.”
And a defensive voice; “don’t pick on him.”
Paul spotted a pill bottle behind the condiments. “Are these the pills?”
“There they are” a voice similar to Jane’s, but then he heard; “Yeah, took long enough.”
Jane poured a glass of water, popped a pill from the bottle and swallowed it, chasing it down with a gulp of water. “Okay, it’s starting to kick in.”
“Good. I was beginning to worry.” Paul was trying to express deep concern whilst actually considering his exit options.” He’d thought he was dating just the one.
“In a couple of seconds, I’ll settle into one personality. It’s usually one of the normal ones.”
“But with my luck?” Paul suddenly realised he’d spoken aloud. “Err, are you ready to order?”
“I can never decide. You choose please. I like most things. Apart from fish. And I’m gluten intolerant. I need to be careful with dairy. If I eat nuts, I have about a minute to get an epi-pen in me, otherwise I’m dead.”
“So, you think I’m fat now?
“What would you normally eat in a restaurant?”
“I’ll have the soup.”
“Okay, a starter, followed by?”
“You read my mind. It’s like we’ve known each other forever. This is my best date in weeks.”
“In what way?” He had to ask.
“Well, it’s lasted the longest.”
“This is the longest a date has ever lasted for you?”
“Wait.” Jane looked at her wristwatch. “Twelve minutes and forty-nine seconds. You’re my personal best. You should be proud of yourself. I’ve never got beyond the starter before.”
“Do you want to quit whilst you’re ahead?”
“I think I should. I’m meeting Michael in about thirty minutes. I booked an Uber. His profile is not very promising, so I might return to you.”
“Right. Bye then. It’s been a….”
“Blast. Yeah. Bye”
Congratulations.” said the waiter. “We think you’ll make a fine diplomatic envoy to the British Government. Can you start on Monday?”
Published in Issue #26