“Lisa had a dog like that one growing up,” says Gary, a little too loudly and pointing a little too obviously at the old man and his Border Terrier as they walk past.
It’s a crisp and bright autumn Sunday morning and Gary and I are strolling along the Water of Leith headed for Stockbridge.
A couple of runners go by. “Lisa runs half marathons. Did I tell you that? She’s got one coming up in a few months,” he adds, proudly.
I nod and make a faux-interest ‘that’s impressive’ face. Gary and Lisa have been dating for about two months now and, well, it would appear that they’re getting along famously.
Gary starts to laugh quietly to himself. With a slight roll of my eyes, I ask the inevitable.
“What, what’s funny?”
“Oh, no it’s nothing..it’s just…” but he interrupts himself by laughing again. “Lisa said the funniest thing last night…”
“Uh huh….which was?”
“Nah never mind, you probably had to be there. It won’t be funny now.”
My patience levels have now deteriorated to critical levels. Gary is surely just trolling me now and it’s working. My ability for soaking up and humouring this behaviour is starting to fold. With every gleeful mention or reference to his new relationship, which by the sounds of it should be in the running for some sort of national relationship awards, slowly chips away at the acknowledgement of my own recent dating failures and my single, lonely and soulless existence.
“Oh, James, look over there!” says Gary, pointing to the other side of the river.
“What? What is it Gary? That girl with the bobble hat? Does Lisa like bobble hats? Does she collect them? Does she have hundreds of them? Does she knit them? Does she run a small business making and distributing novelty bobble hats, Gary? Does she have an army of bobble hats that she’s given names to? Is her Dad Sergeant Bob McBobbleyhat?”
There is a pause as Gary turns and looks at me, nonplussed.
“Erm…no, I….I was just going to say there’s a dog over there being chased by a duck.”
I look to where Gary is pointing and sure enough a small group of people have gathered as a rogue duck appears to be terrorising someone’s small dog on the river bank.
“Oh, oh yeah,” I say slightly embarrassed and shuffling my feet. “That is pretty funny, thanks.”
“Sorry if I’m going on about Lisa a lot. She’s just so cool and we’re having the best time.”
“It’s cool, I get it. Sorry. I’m happy for you. I just got the knock back-text from Terri last night.”
“Ah, sorry mate. You liked her, as well. But today is a new day! One window closes and another opens and all that. We’re almost at the Stockbridge Market. Loads of nice girls live in Stockbridge! Today could be your lucky day! The market is a great place to meet women, James. Everyone knows that.”
This newly optimistic, joyous, life-is-great-Gary that has surfaced lately is very unsettling.
After a couple of minutes watching a small dog be chased by a duck, we arrive at the Market. Gary says he has some errands to run and heads off, practically skipping as he does so. He’s probably off to meet Lisa, I think. For something coupley that couples do, no doubt.
The market is busy. I briefly scan the crowds to get an idea of age range and Gary at least appears to right. There are a good number of very attractive looking girls in my age range. One in particular catches my eye from across the market. Unassuming, nice dress sense and lovely eyes. Oh and her hair. Amazing hair. Flowing, shining and…well, I don’t really know how else to describe hair that looks nice. But it was gorgeous. She was gorgeous.
I put it out of my mind and start browsing the variety of jams, marmalades and other types of preserves I never knew existed. I try all of the various oils at the next stall too – dipping bread and asking serious questions of what each one was. Not because I was going to buy any but just because I was peckish and didn’t want to be rude.
I look around again and see that the girl appears to be on her own too. Browsing some baked goods and engaging in what looks like gentle and friendly banter with the seller. We also seem to be heading towards each other, slowly getting closer with every browse of a stall. Should I say something to her? Should I accidentally-on-purpose bump in to her and then say hello? Should I wait for her to get to the sublime oil selection and then offer her my now expert opinion?
While thinking all of this over I fail to notice someone headed toward me and as I turn, mouth full of oily bread, we bump in to each other accidently-definitely-not-on-purpose and I see what looks like a fresh pretzel fall to the floor.
I quickly and painfully swallow the bread in one gulp, look up to apologise immediately but I’m startled. It’s her! The beautiful girl with the beautiful hair! I am startled. But my brain does that split-second thing where it can’t decide between saying “sorry” or “excuse me.”
“Soothe me!” I blurt out.
I freeze. Time stands still. She looks at me with a mixture of bemusement and amusement as she picks up her fallen pretzel from the floor before I can even offer assistance, compounding my embarrassment further.
“I’m sorry, my fault! I hope that’s not ruthened your….ruthen…ruined your pretzel?” I can’t get my words out. But it wasn’t due to shock or nerves. My mouth is now on fire and it feels like my tongue has swollen to twice it’s size. As beads of sweat start to trickle along my brow and my eyes start to water, I glance over at the last bottle of oil I soaked up. ‘XXX Hot N Spicy XXX Oil’ reads the label.
“It’s okay, no problem,” responds the beautiful girl and her amazing hair walk off, leaving me scrabbling around for a stall that sells ice cold drinks.
I then see Gary approaching through my blurred vision as I gulp down a 7-Up.
“So, how did you get on? Meet anyone?”
“NOPE,” I splutter, all sniffly, red eyed and rosy cheeked.
“Never mind,” says Gary softly, noticing my teary-eyes with a sympathetic head tilt. “You’ll meet someone soon, I promise. Come on, they have some really great food here, that’ll cheer you up. Have you tried any of the exotic oils?”