The market

“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.

Shit.

“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?”

The Christmas party

I’ve never been in a relationship over Christmas before. So when I started dating Emily in early December, I began thinking it might be the year that I’d finally be able to sing along to Mariah Carey while truly understanding and appreciating her words. With Mariah’s lyrics ringing in my ears, I was thrilled to think of the potential that all someone would want for Christmas would be me.

We’d enjoyed a couple of very pleasant dates and when she text to invite me to her place for an “intimate Christmas dinner and drinks” with a close group of her friends one snowy evening, I was delighted. The day prior, she text me:

HEY. EVERYONE IS COMING TO MINE ABOUT 8PM BUT WHY DON’T YOU COME OVER IN THE AFTERNOON AND WE CAN SEE EACH OTHER BEFORE THEY ALL ARRIVE? xx

Even better! She was clearly keen to spend some time alone with me. I could picture the scene already: a crackling fire, some classic Christmas music in background, mulled wine flowing, wrapping presents, decorating the tree together, me making an innocent comment about her ‘pulling my cracker’, which she misinterprets, and we then have a jolly good laugh about it for some time. Perfect!

I pop on my best Christmas jumper, pick up a bottle red and a pack of mince pies and head to her place.

She swiftly gives me the tour and shows me in to the living room. A room which couldn’t look less Christmassy if it tried. I look around. No tree, no anything. Emily pushes open the door to the kitchen.

“Okay, so here are the boxes,” she asserts, starting to point at things. “The tree is in that box there, tinsel in that one, ornaments in that one and everything else is in that one there.” Emily looks back at me and then the bottle of Merlot in my hand. “Oh if you’re going to drink that can you do it in the kitchen? It’s a new carpet and I don’t want to stain it.”

“Oh are you not-…”

“Same with those mince pies. I don’t want to find crumbs when I come back.” she adds, with a laugh in her voice but daggers in her eyes.

“Wait, aren’t are you-…”

“I’m just going to pop out to get something to wear for tonight. I wont be long. Good luck, see you later!” she says with rapid-fire, grabbing her coat and bag and leaving the flat before I could ask her what the hell she was playing at.

It takes me a good fifteen minutes of standing still and staring at the ground to fully comprehend what is happening. She didn’t really want to spend quality time with me, did she? She didn’t really want to decorate together or get to know each other better or practise a duet to Fairytale of New York with me. Basically, she just hadn’t gotten around to decorating her house and wanted someone to do it for her. There’d be no Christmas music or crackling fire…. I started to doubt I’d even get to use any of the bauble-based innuendos I had prepared on my way over.

Close to two hours go by. I’d never before had to fully assemble and decorate a full-sized Christmas tree on my own and I don’t I fancy doing it ever again. I take it like a man though and decorate the crap out of that flat. I’m now incredibly sweaty, tired and pissed off, though, but the place was looking great. Emily texts me to say she’d been ‘held up’ and was on her way back. I took in my handy work, proud at my accomplishment. I celebrated with a glass of red and a mince pie. In the living room. Lying down. On her new carpet. No plates. No napkins. “Screw her,” I mumble to myself, mouth full of mincemeat.

I freshen myself up a bit try and focus on the positives. It would be worth it when everyone arrives and they see what I’d done for Emily. I reminded myself that the fun part was still to come and that I’d demonstrated my value, at least. It was the most gruelling manual labour (and I’m counting it as that) that I’d done in a long time. And I’d done it for a girl. I could literally feel myself maturing.

Emily returns and is suitably excited at the transformation. I grab her a glass and start pouring her a wine and tell her to sit down and put her feet up. She stays standing though and starts fidgeting with her phone.

“Everything okay?” I inquire.

“Yeah….well….ah, you know what? I’m so sorry James I totally forgot that I’d actually arranged tonight as a girl’s night only. They’ll be here soon so….”

“So…?”

“So….”

“Oh! Oh, okay I see. Right well, that’s a shame, I-…..” but before I can continue, Emily thrusts my coat at me and starts ushering me along her hallway to her front door, accompanied by plenty of “so sorry’s” and faux embarrassment. I stand there at her door, a little taken aback.

“I’ll give you a text, James, yeah? Soon, yeah?”

I spot the mistletoe above her door frame.”Oh, okay no problem,” I reply, before looking up at the mistletoe, smiling a wry smile and looking back at her. My eyes saying, “do you see what I see?”

She glances up and then back at me.

“Oh yeah I forgot about that,” mutters Emily, a little less enthused than I’d have liked.

I give her one of my top three best smiles, and tell myself that at least I’ll get a Christmas kiss out of all of this. I pucker up, close my eyes and lean in. But before I could feel her lips on mine, the door slams shut, my nose pressed up against it and I open my eyes to a face full of Christmas wreath and plastic berries.

I frown, turn away dejected, exhausted and shuffle down her stairs and out of her building. I can hear Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas blaring out from one of her neighbours windows and I take in a deep sigh and stifle a fair amount of swear words from exiting my mouth.

I look over at the flat and see written above the letter box in red glittering letters: ‘Tis the season of goodwill!’

I laugh to myself at the irony. “Aye, you’re not wrong there,” I mutter as I trudge out in to the snow.

Merry Christmas everyone.

J.

The ex-boyfriend

“It’s very red,” I say, pulling out my chair and looking around.

“This is my favourite place to eat in the whole world,” Karly beams as we settle down to a meal in what was roughly our fourth or fifth date. “Don’t you just loooove it?”

“It’s quite red, though, isn’t it? Does it all need to be this red?” I ask, examining the red leather chairs.

“That’s the best part!” she says, playing with the red candle on the table. “I come here all the time. I thought you’d love it.”

“It’s just a bit red,” I say, quietly in to my drinks menu.

I had met Karly a month or so previously through a friend at work. We had been getting on well but we had very little in common. You know when you really like someone, you just don’t know why? This was the curious case with Karly.

“So, Karly,” I say brightly as we wait for our drinks to arrive. “I have an extra ticket to see a comedian next Saturday and wondered if you’d be interested in coming with me?”

Karly looked puzzled. “A comedian? What do you mean?”

“As in a famous stand-up comedian. He’s playing here next week and I wondered if you’d want to see him with me?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t really get comedy.”

I pause for a second, thinking I may have misheard.

“You don’t get comedy?” I ask.

“No. Not really.”

“How can you not get it though? It’s a fairly straightforward concept to grasp!”

Wasn’t it?

“I mean, if I went to see the comedian…I wouldn’t know what to do,” she tries to explain.

“What to do? The ‘doing’ is pretty minimal. You sit there and laugh if you find it funny.”

“Nah, I don’t like the idea of that. Sorry.”

“You don’t like laughing?” I ask jokingly.

Karly shrugs her shoulders in a no-big-deal kind of way.

Wow. Okay, I was dating a girl who didn’t ‘get’ stand-up comedy. Not to panic. I mean, it’s not for everyone. So what if going to see live comedy was a favourite activity of mine, one which I’d like to do with a girlfriend one day. So what if I regard it as one of the most important and skilled entertainment arts there is? That’s okay she’s not in to it. Laughing is obviously not for everyone, apparently.

“Okay, no problem. No big deal. Maybe we could go see and movie or something sometime?” I offer as a compromise.

“I hate the cinema.”

I nearly choke on my beer.

“You hate the cinema? That’s a strong word isn’t it? Again, it’s just sitting in a dark room watching a film on a massive screen..!”

“Yeah, but I just think it’s a waste of time. Plus all those people there…and what if you hate the movie? You’ve just wasted a couple hours,” says Karly, rather nonchalantly, sipping away on her red wine.

My mind was all over the place. In the space of five minutes she’s effectively vetoed two of my favourite pastimes!

“So you don’t think you’d be up for coming with me to see stand-up, or to the cinema? At all? Ever?”

“Sorry! I don’t think so. Not my cup of tea,” she adds, firmly.

On reflection I probably should have asked for the bill right there and then. I didn’t want to panic, though. So what she didn’t enjoy those two things? So what if I love those two things? It’s good to be with someone with different interests, isn’t it?

As we wait for the mains to arrive, I try and move past the awkwardness I was feeling and launch in to one of my trademarked and remarkably hilarious and fascinating anecdotes. Half-way in and gaining momentum, I catch her placing her mobile phone on the table and then begin to look down at it every few seconds.

Although it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, particularly on a date, I don’t let it faze me. Maybe she’s expecting an important call? Maybe she’s on call for work? Either way, I give her the benefit of the doubt. I am too polite to ask and I continue showcasing my exceptional conversational skills, but just when I brace myself for the expected hysterical laughter and admiration, her phone beeps. I pause.

“Sorry….”, she says with an embarrassed smile. I give a half-smile back and hesitantly delve back in to my story.

“So, yeah, as I was saying…it was just me, I didn’t know where I was and these three goats just standing there and then the priest shouts….” but I’m stopped in my tracks. I glance back up at her to see she’s now nose-deep in her phone, texting away like a women possessed, not paying the slightest bit of attention to what I am saying.

I take a sip of my beer through gritted teeth and clear my throat, ever so subtly.

I wait a few seconds for her to finally finish her text and put it back on the table.

“Everything okay?” I ask, masking my annoyance.

“Oh, sorry James,” she says. “That was Rob. He keeps cancelling our plans on me!”

“Oh, right. As I was saying…we’re in this strangers bathroom and …….Wait, you’re ex Rob? You still see him? After what you told me last week?”

She and Rob had a terrible break-up, apparently, which I heard all about on date two. They met on holiday, were in a relationship for a little under a year and one day when she popped over to his house to surprise him, his pregnant wife answered the door.

“Yeah, we see each other all the time. We’re friends now. Didn’t I mention that? He’s actually a nice guy,” she says.

Is he? Is he now? Are you sure? I was having a hard time with this revelation, I’ll admit. I didn’t know the guy but everything she had told me that night led me to hate him with the fury of a thousand suns. So the fact she only now tells me they’re mates made me a little uncomfortable. I try to laugh it off and we move the conversation on.

It’s on my mind now though and I’m not sure if I am more annoyed at her being friends with her asshole ex, or that she brazenly will start texting him while we’re on and date, and when we are in mid-conversation. It’s just rude!

It’s the following day, and Karly invites me to her place as she’s having a group of friend’s over for a bit of a gathering. I was still reeling a bit from the night before. The comedy, the cinema, the text-rudeness and ex-boyfriend revelations were still a little fresh and rattling around in my mind.

I do my best to make a good impression with her friends and I think they start to warm to me. Especially her male friends. I got the sense they knew she could be difficult and had sympathy for my efforts. Things were going very well although Karly herself was acting a little distant.

Then, something I was not totally prepared for. The doorbell goes and It’s Rob. I am pretty taken aback, and her friends are visibly split on his inclusion in proceedings too. Karly looks thrilled though as Rob saunters in to the thick of the party. He was all taller and better built than me, with better hair and what looked like a far more expensive and fashion-conscious style.

Not that I was feeling threatened or anything.

I wasn’t. Because he also had the smarmiest, smugiest (it’s word…) face I think I’ve ever seen. And after engaging in a couple minutes of light ‘banter’ I realise he also the personality of an old, unused wardrobe.

The night wares on and I do my best to stay out of his way. It’s getting late though and the handful of guys remaining gather in the kitchen, drink beer and talk about sports, cars, and sports-cars, while the women laugh and joke together in the living room. Rob is lingering too and I desperately try not to make things awkward and just look the other way. Literally and figuratively.

Conversation soon turns to my relationship with Karly. Her male friends are intrigued as to how things are going and I try not to let too much slip out, but my frustration had been gathering momentum and with 12 hours of drinking behind me I, momentarily and, without mentioning Rob, let the guys know about the texting-while-chatting over dinner the night before. It feels good to get sympathy from her friends and to get some reassurance that she can just be socially difficult sometimes.

The night ends and I head off home, with a lot on my mind. The next morning I head to the beach for a hangover-clearing walk and think long and hard about what to do next.

Then, as I I’m sat on a bench emptying sand from my shoe and remembering why I don’t often go to the beach, my phone beeps. It’s Karly.

JAMES. I KNOW YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT ME LAST NIGHT. I CANT BELIEVE YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT ME BEHIND MY BACK. I WONT TOLERATE THAT TREATMENT.

Bollocks. She was angry, clearly. But what had she heard? Did she hear something out of context? I try to remember what I said and scratched my head at anything overly offensive or hurtful. Over the next hour or two I try asking, explaining, reasoning, but it isn’t working. I ask that we meet face to face instead to discuss properly but she’s having none of it. Then she texts:

ROB CAME ROUND THIS MORNING AND TOLD ME EVERYTHING. HE TOLD ME WHAT YOU REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT ME. TOLD ME WHAT YOU SAID TO MY FRIENDS ABOUT DINNER. HE WARNED ME ABOUT YOU FROM THE START. I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO HIM.

Of course he did. We exchanged a few more texts. I apologised for my part in talking to her friends about something she deemed private but it seemed her mind was made up.

Karly and I naturally lost contact after this, but a few months ago I heard on the grapevine that she’s now engaged to be married. To Rob.  He left his pregnant wife for Karly, who had clearly forgiven him for his previous misgivings and they’d gotten back together a couple of weeks after Karly and I stopped seeing each other.

You have to laugh, really, don’t you?

J.

The great escape

I was in a nightclub and it was getting late.

My dancing pace had slowed to a lethargic shuffle and my mind had started thinking about what takeaway I was going to pick up on my way home. When I realised my eyes had been involuntarily closed for the past five minutes or so, I decided it was probably time to go home.

I made the sorry guys I’m knackered so going to head home but you stay and I’ll see you tomorrow mime to my friends and began making my way through the gathered crowds outside the club door. Then, suddenly, I heard my name being called out. I looked around and it was Claire.

I had been on a few dates with Claire about four months before but she then had to go abroad for her studies and we just lost contact. Her cute and friendly face was in stark contrast to her athletic physique. She towered over my fairly substantial 6’1″ frame and had firmer abs than I did (though admittedly not difficult). She was a fiercely competitive type and was a member of her University’s rowing and tennis teams.

She also liked a good drink and a night out, as was evident when she approached me outside the club to say hello.

I had barely told her about my night before she had me pressed up against the wall. I couldn’t quite believe my luck. I was flattered but I was also tired, alone, hungry and wanted my bed. Without anyone else in it. But I was also single and not one to turn down such promising advances.

“Michelle’s coming back to ours for a bit of an after party!” she said excitedly while gesturing to her friend, who could barely stand.

I half-heartedly suggested I was too tired and should go home but Claire was insistent and I’m incredibly weak willed with women. Plus, she was quite an intimidating lady to disagree with.

“Look, Michelle’s got a man and now I have you. Perfect. Let’s get a taxi,” said Claire rather proudly which did my ego no harm.

I looked over at Michelle’s man. Easily 6’5″, shaved head, neck tattoos and a face only a mother could love. Though Michelle too, it seemed.

We bundled in to a taxi and sped off. I sat next to Claire, opposite Michelle and her Scary Man. Scary Man kept his eyes fixed on to mine for the whole journey, bringing out a wry smile every few minutes, all the while Michelle had her tongue in his ear and her hand on his crotch. It was most disconcerting.

We arrived at Michelle’s flat and after short while of inane small talk Michelle and Scary Man had vanished elsewhere, leaving Claire and I alone. She didn’t hold back either. She pinned me down on the sofa using her far superior strength. It was a turn on, but also ever so slightly frightening.

Just when things were hotting up, however, I noticed something.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before now. Because Claire was young, and a student, I hadn’t thought to even check.

“Is that….is that a wedding ring?” I asked cautiously. Claire froze for a second and then looked at her hand.

“Oh, yeah…yeah it is. Don’t worry,” she replied nonchalantly and continued kissing me as if it was no big deal.
“Wait, hold on. You’re married? You know….we can’t do this, right?” I said, disappointedly.
“Why?!”
“Because of that!” I snapped and pointed to the ring.

Without taking her eyes off mine, Claire’s response was to immediately remove the ring and put it on the table.

“There. Problem solved.”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Oh, well what’s the what’s the problem?”
“The problem is your married and its not fair on your husband. I can’t do it.”
“But, he’s fine with it! We have an understanding! I thought you knew that?”
“How could I possibly know that?”
“We’ll, I thought you would have guessed….considering.”

I thought for a second but had nothing. I gave Claire a ‘what the hell are you talking about’ shrug. She rolled her eyes and slowly turned her head towards the room Michelle and Scary Man had entered.

What? No. It couldn’t be. Surely not? Scary Man was Claire’s husband?

I looked at Claire, jaw on the floor. I then remembered the taxi journey. Scary Man’s eyes fixed on to mine….his wry smiles.

“We like to mix things up sometimes. We’ve known Michelle for years. Come, on, we can go join them…”

You know in life when there are clear moments with two distinct roads you can go down and there’s just no way of knowing which will end up being the best choice? Well, needless to say this was one of them.

Panic set in. Claire’s eyes changed. She started looking quite threatening and I got a little scared. She gave me a look that suggested she was telling me to stay, rather than asking.

“No, sorry, I better go,” I spluttered and moved towards the door. Claire grabbed my arm though and pushed me down on the sofa. “Don’t be such a bitch James! Stay!”

“Sorry Claire, I just can’t. I better go,” I replied, rather pathetically. I rushed for the door and desperately tried the handle but it was locked. I searched the hallway for a set of keys, but nothing.

“I can’t get out. The doors locked!” I yelped, a little too high-pitched for a man of my age.
“Oh, yeah, you’ll need the keys,” replied Claire, clearly unhappy with me.
“Where are they then?”
“I’m not telling you. I want you to stay. If you want to go you’ll have to find them.”

At that moment I really didn’t know who I was now more afraid of: Claire or her and Michelle’s Scary Man. I searched every tabletop and drawer in every room for the keys, with no luck.

All but one room.

The room with Michelle and the Scary Ma- sorry I mean Claire’s husband, were doing god-knows-what. I had no choice though. I had to get out of there.

Slowly pushing the door open I stuck my head around it before tiptoeing in. I knew this was risky. I knew if I woke this man up now, I’d probably be leaving the place without all of my teeth.

I stood at the end of the bed, looking down on them, feeling a bit like a creepy Santa Claus. I peered down, as my eyes struggled in the darkness.

I looked around the room as much as I possibly could with minimal lighting, movement or making any noise. As I turned to leave the room defeated, the reflection of something shiny caught my eye on the bedside table next to the snoring Scary Man. The keys! The keys to freedom!

How would I get them though? He was turned facing that side of the bed, nose practically resting on the bedside table. He would clearly feel my presence over him trying to grab the keys. In that moment, I knew what I and to do.

I took a deep breath and I slowly lowered myself down, bending on to my knees, and then on to my stomach.

I paused to reflect for just a second. It’s not often I find myself lying flat out on the floor, at the foot of a strangers bed, in a strangers house, in the middle of the night.

I snapped out of it though and began to slowly army-crawl my way along the length of the bed towards the bedside table, being careful to be as absolutely silent as possible.

I made it to the bedside table and looked up. I kept my eyes fixed on his closed eyelids as I brought my arm up to the table top and began to feel my way towards the keys. I knocked over a small pile of loose change and froze, heart-thumping, as he subconsciously reacted with a sleeping head-nod and a sniffle. I waited for him to fall silent again and eventually got my pinkie wrapped around the keying. I slowly prized it from under the layers of debris, stopping every few seconds to make sure I didn’t awaken the snoozing psychopath.

The keys were mine. I started my backwards crawl, mindful to avoid carpet burn on any sensitive body parts. I made it out of the bedroom with delight and fear running through my veins in equal measure.

I gave Claire a glance as I fumbled with the keys in the lock. Thankfully, though, she was already now fast asleep on the sofa.

Hands shaking, I posted the keys back through the letter box and eventually made it on to an unfamiliar street. Eyes bleary, I had no idea where I was. I looked up at the sky. It was that time where night turned to morning and I looked at my watch. 4:53am.

Looking around me, I made a judgement call as to which direction civilisation was and started walking. As I began walking my phone beeped. It was one of my friends from earlier in the club.

MATE YOU’RE NOT AT THE FLAT YOU OK? HOW WAS YOUR NIGHT? YOU GET LUCKY? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO?

I hit ‘reply’ and spent the whole walk home home thinking about where to start.

J.

The blind date

You know what it’s like when it’s your first time; nerves, anxiety, sweaty palms, not knowing how you’ll perform, or whether you’ll do it right. This was going to be my first time and I won’t lie, I was nervous.

I had been on one or two dates before, but this was going to be the first time I’d ever been on a blind date.

We were introduced online by a mutual friend who thought we’d get along. I was fairly inexperienced in the whole ‘dating’ lark at this point and the thought of us getting together this way was actually quite exciting and felt quite grown up.

She didn’t live that close to me but I had it in my head that I wanted to go on the date nonetheless. I didn’t have access to a car though, so we arranged for me to get a bus and she’d then pick me up. We’d then go to the cinema, which was her choice and I didn’t complain.

At this point, albeit early in proceedings, all was going to plan. She picked me up at the bus station as we had arranged. The chat was light and friendly in the short car journey to the cinema, however, it became clear quite early on that we were on fairly different wavelengths. To be honest, I thought she was actually a bit immature, much more so than when we’d chatted online. I let it slide though, careful not to judge her too quickly.

Once in the cinema, she insisted we sat at the very top row and right in the far corner. My naivety initially couldn’t understand this, what with plenty available seats in the middle providing you with optimum screen viewing. It eventually clicked though, and I was as flattered as I was surprised.

We settled down in our weird little corner and after half an hour or so I was getting quite into the film. I glanced over to her to gauge her feelings on it. To my horror, not only did she look bored, but she wasn’t even looking at the screen. She was looking up at the ceiling, eyes wandering around the room. Basically everywhere but the screen. I caught her eye so I gave her a half-smile and raised my eyebrows in a “what do you think about the film” kind of way.

“Are you actually enjoying this?” she said, in a volume I am uncomfortable with during a cinema viewing. I whispered back extra quietly, just to emphasise that point.

“Yeah, aren’t you? I think it’s good.” I said.

“You know, we don’t have to be watching the movie…” she replied. Her eyes had widened so much that they reflected the screen that she wasn’t watching.

“Oh. Do you want to leave? Would you rather go somewhere else?”

“No… I mean…you know you can kiss me if you want to, right?”

I looked at her a little taken aback. I didn’t really have any desire to kiss her. I wasn’t really attracted to her, her conversation was poor and, to be quite frank, I didn’t want to miss much of the movie.

Before I could say anything though, she jolted her head towards mine, catching the corner of our foreheads together as she did so. I had little time to recoil in pain though as she quickly grabbed my face and began undertaking what I can only describe as an insult to the fine art of kissing.

A “kiss” that lasted only a few seconds, however.

I’m a firm believer that a kiss should be an act of lust, desire or love. Not a mechanical task for the sake of it, which she seemed to think it was. She basically planted her mouth on to mine and started popping her tongue in and out of her mouth like a toy you have to wind up.

It was not enjoyable. I pulled away, glanced her a fake smile and turned back towards the cinema screen.

After a short while, I looked back at her to see her smirking at her mobile and tapping away at it.

“Is everything okay?” I whispered.

“Oh yeah. It’s just my ex. He’s hilarious.”

“Huh? Your ex!?”

“Yeah, my ex-boyfriend.”

“I know what an ‘ex’ is. Why is he texting you?”

“Oh he always texts me. We’re still close. In fact he’ll be at the house later if you want to come back and meet him after we’re done?”

Now, in my head my response was ABSOLUTELY NOT, but I’m pretty sure in reality it involved a shrug, a nervous laugh and a mumble along the line of ‘we’ll see’.

The film ended. I had missed large chunks of it which didn’t help my mood, and I’m pretty sure she slept through the last half an hour.

The conversation was strained as we got back in to car and started driving. I suddenly felt a long way from home. She drove back in to town and I started dropping hints that perhaps we should call it a night.

She had different ideas though.

Without warning, she pulled in to the car park of a massive retail park. It was deserted. She found a space in the middle, stopped and turned off the engine. I looked around, and then at her, confused.

“Why are we here?” I asked. She laughed.

“Why do you think?”

“Your ex-boyfriend isn’t meeting us here, is he?”, I said, only half-joking.

“No, why do you want me to… ”

“No!” I interrupted. “No, I was kidding.”

I was nonplussed. I had no idea why we were sat there. I mean, I had seen some television shows and films where young folks (like me) would stop in car parks in cars and get up to all sorts of business.

Normally though it’s on a picturesque hill, at night, overlooking a sleepy, moon-lit town. Not in an empty car park, in broad daylight, overlooking a B&Q.

I shuffled awkwardly in my seat and suggested again that it was getting late. Truth be told, I feared a little for my safety. She sighed and shrugged and started muttering to herself. She wasn’t happy and I couldn’t really blame her. I think we both had very, very different ideas as to how this date was going to go.

We eventually exited her arena of seduction that was really just a grey, concrete slab, and soon found ourselves hurtling down the dual carriageway as I started to wonder where she was going to take me next. Maybe behind some bins.

Suddenly, though, she flicked on the car indicators. Only there was no turn off. We drift over lanes and she pulled up in to the hard shoulder.

“Is this okay for you?” she said, telling me more than asking me.

I looked around me. Probably not, I thought.

“There’s a bus stop just down there and across the bridge.” she added, firmly.

“Ah, right. Okay then yeah that’s fine. Thanks.” I said as I stumbled out of the car.

As she sped off I took a moment to get my bearings and tried to process the last few hours.

I trudged along the hard shoulder and headed for the bridge, inhaled deeply, and took in the view where the grey road meets the grey sky in the distance, and I sighed. A long way from home, alone, and lips feeling like they’d been blowing up balloons for hours.

This is ‘dating’ then, I thought to myself. Maybe I wasn’t quite as ready for it as I thought I was.

J.

The flowers

I think it’s weird that when you give someone flowers, you’re really saying ‘Here you go, now watch these die….’cause I like you.’ I feel like you should give someone flowers when you wanna threaten them. ‘Here….you’re next’. – Demetri Martin

While I agree with Demetri’s take on flower-giving as a romantic gesture, I’d be lying if I said it put me off wanting to send a special someone a nice bouquet one day.

The problem was, I’d never had the opportunity. Never really having had a serious girlfriend meant there were no birthdays or Valentine’s Days, and no anniversaries to speak of either. I’d never even had the chance to send a girlfriend flowers out of guilt!

I like to think of myself as a romantic soul. I’ve just never really had the opportunity to show it.

Until Jen. We’d been dating for a couple of months and a series of events led me down a road where I thought I finally had the perfect chance.

Our different work commitments had meant we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks and she was also in the process of moving in to a new house. I had been feeling quite low, too, as I got an illness just as I was about to go off on holiday so had to cancel it and was frustrated and not being able to see Jen just when things were looking positive between us. While I was at home recuperating, we also had a death in the family. So all in all it was not a jolly time.

The idea then came to me that I should send her some flowers, to her new home, as a surprise and I was quite pleased with myself for the idea. If ever there was a time, if ever there was a girl for this, it was now and it was Jen. I thought it would be a great way to let her know I was thinking about her, plus it’d help brighten up her empty new house, while the thought of her reaction in receiving them genuinely made me feel better at what was a difficult time.

My first task was finding out the address of her new house. I logged on to Facebook and looked up her best friend, whom I’d met a few times and got along well with. I sent her a message telling her my plan and asked for her thoughts, as well as the new address. She replied insisting it was great idea and gladly included Jen’s new address.

On the morning of the family funeral I sneaked away while the family got ready, looked up a florists near her new home and spoke at length to the nice lady who talked me through what would work well. I included a heavily hinted note, paid, and rejoined my family.

I can’t quite describe how nervous I was just ordering them. It might not seem like a big deal to most, but to me it was massive. My stomach churned and I was close to chickening out a few times. I’d have a flurry of excitement and adrenalin picturing her reaction but there was also a nervousness and anxiety. It just wasn’t something I’d ever done. For anyone. I consulted friends who had done similar and I was assured that girls love flowers. Even more so if it’s a surprise and there are genuine motives behind it.

I had recovered from my illness and had one more day off work before going back. For my last day off I headed for an afternoon cinema visit to see The Hangover 2. All morning I kept checking my phone for a response and the flurries in my stomach got bigger as the day wore on.

I was sitting through the pre-film adverts when my phone finally beeped.

HEY J! DID YOU BY ANY CHANCE SEND ME FLOWERS? x

Right. Here we go. This was it! I was about to feel very, very good about myself.

I MIGHT HAVE :) WHY HAVE YOU RECEIVED SOME FLOWERS??

My grin was ear to ear. I just wanted to see her now. See her face. Her pretty face all deligthed and in shock at what a thoughtful and kind man I was.

YES. I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE YOU. x

Oh. Not quite what I was after.

I HOPE YOU LIKED THEM??

Up until this point her replies were coming in quite quickly. So much so that by this point the trailers were still running and the movie hadn’t started yet. But after this text, there was a noticeable delay before her next message, which made me slightly nervous. I knew she had issues in the past with bad boyfriends and I just wanted this to at least show her I was maybe one of the good ones. Then, another beep.

I APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT x

Jesus. It was like blood from a stone. Slightly underwhelming, and again, pretty light on any detail or emotion.

YOU’RE WELCOME. YOU SURE YOU LIKE THEM??

Again, another gap after this one. The movie was about to start and even though I was pretty much in there completely by myself, I follow a self-imposed cinema etiquette and I’ll be damned if I was about to throw my own movie-going principles out of the window now.

But then my phone beeped just in time. I dreaded looking at it by now, though. I took a deep breath and opened the message.

WHILE I APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT, I DO NOT CONDONE THE KILLING OF LIVING THINGS. THIS INCLUDES FLOWERS. PLASTIC ONES OR NONE AT ALL I’M AFRAID. SORRY. REAL ONES BELONG IN THE GROUND TO LIVE AND SHOULDN’T BE MURDERED. x

Trust me, it’s not easy describing what went through my head as I read and re-read that text over and over.

As I tried taking it in, she unwittingly kicked me when I was down and followed up a minute later with this:

ALSO I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU BROKE MY TRUST BY GOING BEHIND MY BACK TO FIND OUT MY NEW ADDRESS WHEN I WASN’T READY TO GIVE IT TO YOU. HOW CAN I START TO TRUST YOU AGAIN?

Stunned. Deflated. Confused. Take your pick.

I didn’t reply to this one immediately and sat and watched the movie. It was hard to enjoy The Hangover 2 after that. I’m still not sure how much of that was down to my mood and how much was down to the film.

Things unsurprisingly unravelled quite quickly after that and an uncomfortable and regrettable parting of ways occurred shortly after. I had argued that she had already invited me to a party at her new place the following week and that I’d probably need to know her new address in order to attend, but it fell on deaf ears.

The truth is, the title of this post is a little misleading. I know I will send a girl flowers again, one day. While this episode did hit pretty hard, I know deep down it won’t be the same the next time. I’ve been told I was unlucky that the one time I do this it bites me in the ass and that I shouldn’t let it put me off. Especially, if the right person comes along. Which I really hope they do, and soon.

If only I had remembered Demetri Martin’s joke earlier, I could turned it on it’s head and insisted on a different meaning behind the gesture:

GLAD YOU GOT THE FLOWERS……NOW WATCH THESE DIE. JUST LIKE US.

J.

The climb

8091180624_552c6fa870We met through a mutual friend at a party not long after I moved to Edinburgh. We bonded over the fact that we were both fairly new to the city and had yet to sample all it had to offer. We exchanged numbers and continued to talk about our lack of proper Edinburgh knowledge and used that as a good way to get together for date number one. Her enthusiasm was evident:

YES! LETS MEET UP ON SATURDAY! WE CAN EXPLORE SOME OF EDINBURGH TOGETHER! x

GREAT. LOOKING FORWARD TO IT!

We arrange to meet at the Grassmarket and ‘take things from there’. Perfect. Plenty of pubs to kick off with there. Following that, I’d imagine a jaunt down the Royal Mile perhaps, maybe stopping off for some pub lunch somewhere. Then depending on how the day was going somewhere nice for dinner and even more drinks later in to the night. I was optimistic. This could be a very good day indeed.

It is an unusually warm and sunny Saturday in Edinburgh, even for summer, but I am planning for a long night. I knew our pub crawl would take us well in to the evening when it would be cooler and I wanted to make a good impression. So I went for the staple dress code of guys my age, ‘smart-casual’. I had just bought some new black work shoes too, so this was the perfect time to test them out and wear them in. Shirt, black blazer and jeans. Sorted. Sure, I’d be warm at first, but as soon as we got in to a nice, air conditioned bar, I’d be laughing.

I make my way to the Grassmarket and start looking around. We had agreed to meet outside the Beehive Inn. No sign. I pop inside and look around but can’t see her, so get my phone out and head back outside.

HEY! I’M HERE WHERE ARE YOU?

OUTSIDE. BY THE BENCHES. YOU CAN’T MISS US! x

GREAT. SEE YOU IN A SEC!

Wait, hold on.

I look back at my phone. ‘us’? Did her text say ‘us’?

I stare at that small word for a good minute or so and it slowly dawns on me there was no specific clarification that today would involved anyone else but us two. Or that it was in fact, a ‘date’. Did I need to clarify this?

HEY CANT WAIT FOR SATURDAY. BY THE WAY THIS *IS* A DATE ISN’T IT?

No. That would have been suicide. But still, it was fairly obvious that we were arranging a date. Wasn’t it?!

I hear her before I spot her. Hair tied back, she wasn’t exactly dressed for the pub, though.

She’s wearing a bright orange waterproof top and those black stretchy legging-type three-quarter length trouser things girls sometimes wear to the gym, and a pair of trainers. She was also sporting one of those backpacks that’s actually not a bag, but a water bottle, complete with plastic tube all the way round to her mouth.

I stand in front of her in my evening clobber and endure a strange moment where we say nothing, both in a little bit of shock, I think. She looks me up and down for so long I thought for a second she had a serious neck problem.

“Hey,” I say, in what I was sure was a solid opener.

“Eh, hey!” she replies. “How are you? You look…good.”

“Oh, thanks. You eh…you too!”

Only a couple of sentences in this already feels like the world’s longest and most strained conversation.

“These are my friends,” she says, pointing to an equally spandex-clad ensemble consisting of two guys and a girl. She introudces me to them but in my paniced state I immediately forget their names.

“So”, I say, trying ease the awkwardness. “When you said explore I thought you meant…” and I look longingly over to the pub.

“What? No, silly, I want to really explore! I thought we could go up Arthur’s Seat!?”

“Arthur’s Seat? The massive hill thing? All the way up?”

“It’s hardly massive!”

“It’s still a hill.

I think about bailing, using my lack of appropriate attire as a reason, or maybe feign a serious leg injury. But I didn’t want her thinking how pathetic, unfit and moany I could be. That could wait until at least a third date.

“It’ll be fun,” she says and starts bouncing up and down and bending her knees up to her chest. I stifle a laugh and look over at her friends for back-up. But to my dismay they start following suit.

Not the best of starts, but hey, I’m an active guy! I do…sports. Occasionally.

I clap my hands together in that way people do to let everyone know that I’m up for it and ready to get going.

I look around, spot an oncoming taxi and start to hail it.

“What are you doing?,” she asks.

“Just getting us a taxi…”

“Haha, you kidder! Come on, lets go!”

She’s bouncing even higher now, turns and starts walking.

“Haha. Oh, yeah, of course we’ll walk there, haha I got you!”

I started walking. Arthur’s Seat was miles away, I think to myself.

We arrive at the foot of Arthur’s Seat,  and I am massively regretting the new death-shoes. My feet had rubbed up against them so much on the walk there they were now bathing in a pool of my own blood and broken toenails.

It was so ridiculously hot, too. Walking for 20 minutes or so in this heat, in jeans and a blazer….it’s not pleasant. My shirt is stuck to my body, and likewise my jeans to my legs. I don’t dare take my blazer jacket off though, otherwise I’d have to reveal the sweating armpit massacre that was going on underneath. I am breathless, visibly red, and sweating. A lot. I look at her for comfort and sympathy. Nothing. She hasn’t even broken sweat. At all.

We start the climb. My thighs are burning. I’m in so much pain, grimacing constantly just trying to keep pace with her and her friends. I’m starting to judge her now for making me continue, and for her serious lack of compassion.

We make it to the top. Her and her friends and are chatting away and gawping at the view. I’m too shattered and roasting, trying to catch my breath, to even take it in.

I try and hide it from the group as best I can and decide to lead the charge back to the bottom and show them I had plenty left in the tank. But, thanks to my new dress-shoes and my exhaustion, not to mention dangerous gust of wind,  I lose my balance and tumble forward head first, crashing on to the grassy mound and rolling so far down that I’m genuinely shocked I don’t reach the bottom when I finally stop. The group chase after me until, finally, I stagger back to my feet. I dust myself off in a no big deal kind of way, but I’m fooling no-one.

We all know this isn’t going well. I’m pretty embarrassed and, unlike most other dates, I am now bleeding from various parts of my body.

We part ways half way up the Mile and I tell her I’ll give her a text, though I’m pretty sure she can smell my sense of defeat. I assure her I was fine and that I just need to go home and clean up.

Walking home I decide to treat myself. I prize open the door to the Last Drop and limp to the bar. Solace. Peace. And most importantly, a chair. I am aching from head to toe. And on my head and on my toes. My new black shoes are now brown, as are my formerly-blue jeans. Feet bloodied and blazer muddied, I collapse on to the bar stool.

“Pint, please,” I beg.

“You all right mate?” inquires the barman. “Have you just been in a fight!?”

I shake my head slowly and mumble: “No”.

I take a deep breath, “Just on a date.”

J.

The hamster

cosmo

The first two dates had gone rather well by all accounts. Kelly was very sweet but was also very quirky which I liked. I figured that’s why she was single though, as I could imagine it scaring off some guys.

During the second date I mentioned to her that I thought she was quirky and she said she’d heard it before. She mentioned that she completed a quiz in a recent issue of Cosmopolitan where it works out the personality types of singletons and that it came to the same conclusion as I did. I had no idea Cosmopolitan did this kind of thing and started to dread what ghastly conclusion it would have for me as to why I was still single.

We decided that date three would be pizza, wine and a movie at her place. Perfecto! Result! Cash back! Back of the net!

(In heindsight that response maybe came out a little too enthusiastically down the phone to her when she suggested it).

I arrived at her place and was promptly given the tour.

‘Oh, and this is my room’, she said and opened a door to the promised land.

It was not what I expected, however.

A sea of pink, the walls were covered with pop groups and Disney characters. Stuffed toys dominated her bed and I spotted at least three unicorn paintings. It was, essentially, what can only be described as an 11 year old girl’s bedroom.

‘Quirky’ was quickly starting to mean something very different.

‘This…is your room?’
‘Yep! It’s sweet, right?’, Kelly replied.

(A pause)

‘Emm…uh huh.’

I was convinced she was winding me up and that she maybe had a secret daughter or something. But no. It was her room. I was shocked, but my friends always tell me not to be put off so easily by little things. So she was just clinging on to her childhood. Big deal. Nothing too wrong with a 24 year old girl decorating her room like this is there? What? There is?

Kelly asked me to pick a DVD and she confirmed we’d watch it in her room, on her bed, which under normal circumstances would be cause for mild celebration. I looked at her DVD collection: Little Mermaid, Lady and the Tramp, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King….you get the idea.

‘So many to chose from!’ I said, with hint of nervous laughter.

I eventually chose the most ‘adult’ film in her collection which, would you believe, was Hairspray. You know, the one with singing and colours and John Travolta dressed as a woman. We watched. I endured. Once that ordeal was over with, we were still laying on her bed, we ate the pizza and drank the wine. The crazy bedroom decor aside, we were actually getting pretty cosy (maybe it was the wine) and things ended up getting a little heated. You know, as they would. We kissed for what felt like a week and garments started to fly.

She then leaned in close and whispered to me:

‘I like you’
‘I….like you too’, I replied, trying to hide my slight hesitance.

(A pause)

We looked in to each others eyes for a second, she bit her bottom lip then leaned in close to my ear and whispered again:

‘Would you like to play with my hamster?’

(A further pause)

She smiled.

Interesting. But hey, maybe this is what all girls called ‘it’ these days. It might be all over Cosmopolitan for all I knew!

‘Suuuuure….’ I replied, slightly bemused. She excitedly jumped up off the bed and started rummaging beneath it as I looked on. That must be where she keeps her saucy lingerie, I thought.

Then, she pulled out a rattling, metal cage. ‘Look!’ she yelped. And there it was. An. Actual. Hamster.

(More pausing)

(In fact, I think I went a solid 6 or 7 minutes before I spoke again)

She took out the hamster and started playing with it in her arms before thrusting it in my face and demanding I also played with it.

‘Do you want to play with Annie? I think she likes you!’

So she has a pet hamster. That she hides under her bed and brings out for guys she brings home to play with. Maybe that’s what all the girls do these days. It might be all over Cosmopolitan for all I knew!

I politely declined initially, a response which seemingly broke her heart judging by her reaction. I eventually caved and before I knew it I was, you know, playing with a girl’s hamster. I tried to comprehend what was happening. A second ago we were kissing and de-clothing and now (and try picturing this) all of a sudden here I was, a 24 year old man, sitting cross legged, half naked, on a girl’s child-like bed, playing with a hamster. An actual hamster. I figured as long as it didn’t go near my groin, we’d be okay. The last thing I wanted was to terrify the poor thing. Or injur myself.

It hit 3am. Still slightly disillusioned by the whole turn of events and my surroundings, I eventually made my excuses and left. My eyes were heavy and in truth I was a little anxious about what I might wake up to. Or next to.

I apologised, shuffled out of the room and made my way home.

Not before stopping at the 24 hour garage to pick up a copy of Cosmopolitan.

J.