Date One: Almost Perfect
The initial conversation happened late on Tuesday night. Joanne was about to close her laptop; she’d only had a couple of messages and they were of the monosyllabic, emoticon variety. Then suddenly: “Hello, you look extremely nice indeed; do you have a moment to chat?” Someone called Richard. Joanne saw that he wasn’t bad himself; short brown hair and no sign of balding, 35ish, rather noticeable blue eyes. She checked his vital stats: employed and over 5’8. Worked at Whitehall in something to do with the environment. Good – not another IT consultant, then.
The chat had been flirtatious from the beginning; it was nearly 2AM when Joanne had extricated herself, and then she’d lain grinning in bed for a time.
They’d agreed to meet two days later, for a drink on Thursday night. She hadn’t heard anything from him on the Wednesday, which didn’t have to be a bad thing but might be. You never knew what men’s silences meant. But they hadn’t decided on a meeting spot, which he’d wanted to suggest.
Then, on Thursday afternoon she’d had a message: short but sufficient, confirming their date, at a pub somewhere hidden near Westminster.
Joanne had been on only two or three internet dates since opening a profile and they’d been absolutely awful. She was fairly critical in general, but really, when it came to dating, who wasn’t critical? You didn’t want someone’s tongue in your mouth who you think didn’t much of. Man One had seemed extremely physically attractive online, even if he was a fairly ordinary communicator. But when they’d met up, he’d been four inches shorter than he’d claimed, far greasier, and very skinny. He was also immensely dull; unfurling one clichéd line after the next about liking to relax and party too; to work hard but not too hard. Man Two had been horrifyingly average all-round – he’d been witty online and looked ok but Jo was learning that online was at best a rough indication of the person. Often it was no indication at all, her friends had commiserated. After promising references to opera and literature, Man Two had suggested meeting at Leicester Square tube station and then, not having any further plan, had agreed to Jo’s idea of a glass of wine at the Cork and Bottle, where she found her attention firmly on the rat scurrying between kitchen and cellar instead of on Man Two’s recollection of a recent holiday in California.
Which was why Joanne felt a mixture of nervous curiosity – could this guy end up in her bed tonight? – and dutiful cynicism. Best not to get excited for these things. But she’d actually felt something during their chat, not the usual sense of “oh, here we go…”
She’d come straight from work, as the sole employee at an antiquarian bookseller lorded over by a slightly too eccentric scholar who considered himself something of a lothario. He’d recruited her straight from Cambridge eight years ago when she’d finished a degree in Classics with a starred first. Together they bought and sold some of the strangest bibliophile treasures of Europe and the Orient, but she had long felt she might prefer working somewhere without an old man, however genius, breathing on her daily.
She did not have to dress up for work as it was the two of them and the only visitors were interested in books, not clothes. So she’d stuffed a pretty shirt in her bag on her way out that morning and had hastily thrown it on in the loo after work, leaving it buttoned fairly low.
There he was, with a beer – a Guinness, a third down. So far so ok – he looked roughly like he did in the pictures, and his expression – that thing which carried so much intuitive force – seemed to have promise. His eyes, for instance, were engaging and their blue was still noticeable even in the fug of the pub. He had thin lips. Ah well. When he saw her he sprang up and pecked her on the cheeks. His accent was pretty middle-of-the-road; not plummy, but perhaps studiedly not so. Voice was sonorous enough; a firm bass; face had a few welcome bits of stubble that prickled on the kisses. Suddenly they had those frantic “hi!” “hi” and “sorry I’m late/sorry I was a bit early” preliminaries out of the way. Joanne wondered if he’d expect her to go to the bar and get her own drink. If he did then this would not work out and she’d spend the rest of the time looking at the clock.
After a pause, a generously furnished hint from Joanne, Richard took the hint and forcefully proposed getting her a drink. She asked for the usual glass of white – small, please. Richard- equally customarily- got a large. Good.
The conversation was good; after all, they had lots to find out about the other. And lots to tell; Richard had done lots for different bits of Whitehall and had switched from a fast-track career in the foreign office to DEFRA after a placement in the Gulf had given him the creeps. Joanne told him about the trip to Oman she’d done after a particularly frantic book hunt in Istanbul; they compared notes on the Middle East and books. Richard didn’t know much about collecting or antiquarianism but he was well read and seemed to have read the entire Victorian canon which was unusual for men.
As the night progressed, Joanne allowed herself to drink several more large glasses of the pinot grigio, and to set up a brisk double-think. While enjoying and responding to Richard’s words, she was feeding his expressions and the cumulative experience into a different part of her mind. Overall she was beginning to absolutely bloody love Richard. She could marry him. He’d be perfect. But wait, wait. First dates are always good. She was drunk. Still, she was going to go for it. Why not. If he was the one then a first-night seduction would be fine. She had several friends in great marriages who’d slept together on the first date.
It was closing time and they’d begun brushing against each other’s hands. Richard lightly took hers at one point, noting that she had some chipped nail varnish on her thumbnail. By then it was as if they’d already decided they were in love; Jo chuckled intimately that she wasn’t very good at things like nail varnish.
They rose to leave. What now? Clearly it wasn’t over.
“Sadly I have an early meeting tomorrow,” said Richard. Joanne felt a thud. Oh. Maybe he wouldn’t even kiss her.
“So as much as I’d like to keep going, I’d better shoot.”
“Oh, really?” allowed Jo, hoping it didn’t sound too angry. “Ok, well it was great to meet you.” She could feel herself getting hurt and angry, all those feelings of rejection tumbling into her soul. It was ludicrous and a sure way to put him off.
They were near a bus-stop; the right one for both of them only in different directions. Please let there be a long wait so that he’d kiss her and re-awaken that exciting sense of future in the present, so magically infusing the beery air in the pub just ten minutes ago.
But her bus came immediately. Hastily he kissed her again on the cheeks and said he’d be in touch.
On the bus she fell asleep and missed her stop. The next day, her antiquarian book-dealing boss barely noticed when she came in two hours late, looking terrible. But later in the day, his bad breath – so close to her face – was too much for her, and she pleaded sickness and went home early. She checked her online account. Nothing.