I’d thought things were going pretty well, to be honest. We’d been seeing rather lot of each other, in more ways than one, ever since our eyes had met across a crowded room. Well, crowded bar. He was a bit different from my usual type. Older and more ordinary I suppose. He looked out of place there, standing next to the super-groomed, gym-fit boys. I always wanted to break into song when I saw that crowd. You know the one: ‘Tall and tanned and young and lovely…’ Beside them he looked a bit rumpled, dishevelled even, nursing a glass of red. Another thing that made him stand out.
I was just working up the nerve to go over, to see whether I could get a bit of a chat going, when he looked up from his glass and our eyes locked. I swear, it was like a physical blow. A jolt of electricity. If it wasn’t so damn dark in there you’d have seen my blush from the moon.
Before I’d had time to compose myself, think of some witty remark as an introduction, he was on his way over.
‘Is it always like this in here?’ He had to shout to make himself heard over the racket. The Latino girls next to me were shrieking with laughter about something. I didn’t like to look in case it had something to do with me. And the DJ had turned up the volume on one of those tired disco classics.
‘Yeah, pretty much. On Fridays especially.’ God, that was a scintillating start – our first conversation.
He grinned. I had a bit of a shock. He hadn’t had his teeth fixed – very old school. But I liked the sound of what came next.
‘Shall we get out of here?’
We didn’t hang about. Quick drink at the pub next door where we could actually talk a bit. I had to ignore the usual crew around the bar, rolling their eyes and making lewd gestures behind his back.
We spent the whole of that weekend together. Not just in bed round at my place. We went out, too. And not just the usual places. On Saturday we went to the National Gallery and the ICA, then we walked through St James’s Park. We sat on a bench and watched families feeding the ducks, then we bought wine and spent a fortune at the deli and went back to mine. On Sunday, we took the tube to Richmond Park and walked some more. I didn’t like to mention to him that I was ruining my new Louboutin trainers, the ones with the gold lettering on the ankle. I’d only bought them the week before.
He seemed to really know his way around there. Said he only lived a couple of miles away and liked to get on his bike and cycle there in the mornings, as soon as they opened the gates, before the crowds descended. While the sun was still rising and the mist dispersing in the autumn, or while the grass was still white over with frost in the winter, the deer standing out against the frosty landscape, their breath hanging in the air. He was like a painter with words, a poet. He said he worked in the arts – maybe that explained it.
We walked past White Lodge. ‘Did you train there?’ He was serious.
‘Nah. Up north. Wolverhampton. Then Birmingham.’
He’d been to see me perform. I’d started the job after we met. Third from the end, chorus of Les Mis. He was polite about it afterwards, even enthusiastic, but I could tell it wasn’t his cup of tea. More likely to find him at the National, I reckon.
It was only six weeks, and counting, when it happened. We were having a pub lunch in Richmond, after our usual Sunday morning Richmond Park walk. (I’d even invested in some walking boots. Horrid clumsy things. No style.) We were talking about maybe going away for a week in the summer, and having a debate about where. I favoured a bit of sun, the Italian lakes maybe, or what about somewhere more exotic? He said Sweden, or even Iceland?
I noticed that he’d gone a bit quiet. I thought maybe he was upset when I’d refused dessert. ‘Watching my figure,’ I’d said, giving him a look. I’d been teasing him the previous night about not taking care of himself, about his bit of a belly. He’d been impatient.
‘Pointless vanity’, he’d said. Maybe the dessert comment had been a bit tactless? It looked fantastic when it arrived, it has to be said, but I could hardly ask for a share now that I’d gone on about it, could I?
I noticed that his eyes kept sliding away from me when I talked. He was looking over his shoulder at someone or something. It was a bit unnerving. I was facing the wall, he was facing into the room. There wasn’t even a mirror to help me get a sense of what might be happening behind me. I wanted to bob my head back into his line of sight, make some joke about it.
I didn’t dare ask him who or what he was looking at, so I got up to go to the Gents. I scanned the room behind me to see who could have caught his eye. No-one obvious; they were all couples and families. A waiter? It seemed unlikely: I could only see waitresses in any case. Young girls, looked like students. All very slim and gorgeous. Didn’t look as though a morsel of the Sunday lunch they were serving had ever passed their lips.
When I got back to the table he had gone. I tried hard not to look surprised, or upset. Were the people sitting on either side looking at me? Were they feeling sorry for me? I felt too self-conscious to turn around to see whether I could spot him. I got my phone out and pretended to be absorbed in my messages and Facebook. Time was passing. Should I call him to find out where he’d gone?
I felt a hand on my shoulder. ‘I’d like you to meet someone.’
I turned, half stood up. He had his arm around the shoulder of one of the young girls that worked there. Long hair, dark eyes. I couldn’t quite take it in.
‘My daughter, Ellie.’ That figured. She looked a lot like him.
‘She’s just finished her shift. I haven’t seen her in a while. I’m going to walk her home and catch up on her news. Maybe pop in and say ‘hi’ to her Mum. Do you mind?’
There wasn’t a lot I could say, except ‘Pleased to meet you,’ ‘No, you go right ahead,’ and ‘Lovely food.’ That kind of thing. Polite pleasantries. Putting a brave face on it.
I never saw him again. I walked in Richmond Park a few times. Thought I might see him on his bike, or walking the dog with his family. I promised myself I wouldn’t text or call him, or have a rant. I half thought he might write and explain himself. For a week or two I looked for a letter on the mat every morning.
What stops me writing? I don’t know his address. Tourists, that’s what I call men like him. They’re the worst. The boots? I took them to the charity shop.
This is my entry for the Thanet Creative Writers competition.