I thought I’d put a story up for Valentine’s Day which is the opposite of how most people would like a first date to go. I really enjoyed writing this and although most of it is from my imagination, I did draw on experience for some of it…
Fran rushed into the restaurant, cheeks flushed from the cold night air, worried about making a bad first impression. She hated being late and normally arrived early for everything but a burst water main had meant her bus had taken a circuitous detour, bouncing its way through parts of the city she didn’t even recognise.
As she glanced around the Italian restaurant, she quickly realised that, despite it being 7.39pm, her date had not yet arrived. Her heart sank when it became apparent that this was not a friendly trattoria full of warmth and laughter but a sepia-tinged place which still thought that the height of sophistication was using raffia covered chianti bottles as candle holders. The restaurant was cluttered and badly lit, the only other diners an ancient couple who looked as if they’d been there since 1975.
Fran became even more dispirited when a bored teenage girl eventually emerged from the kitchen, scuffed her way across the alarmingly patterned carpet and mumbled something in her general direction. Fran replied, “Erm, table for two, please, booked in the name of Peacock”, which hopefully answered both of the likely questions. The girl simply stared at her, turned on her heel and shuffled towards a table which could just be made out in the gloom at the back of the restaurant, close to the toilets. “Er, excuse me?” The girl stopped and slowly turned around. “Could I have a table in this part of the restaurant? Maybe over there?” Fran pointed to a table in the middle of the room, between the bar and the steamed-up window. The girl blinked then, after a long wait, gestured vaguely towards the table before making her way back to the kitchen like one of the undead.
After shrugging off her coat, Fran immediately felt exposed. In a moment of uncharacteristic recklessness, she had chosen to wear a low-cut, wraparound top which revealed more of her cleavage than she was comfortable with. She had bought it for last year’s office Christmas do but had put on a few pounds since. Well, more like half a stone, if she was honest, and the figure-hugging fabric was struggling to maintain her modesty. She made some adjustments, then crossed her arms across her chest defensively while debating whether or not to put her scarf back on. The phrase, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” floated into her head as she hunched over the menu and nibbled on a breadstick.
Fran checked her watch. 7.50pm. Ian was twenty minutes late. She decided she would wait another fifteen minutes before she left. She wasn’t desperate but as this was her first date through the Match Made in Heaven dating website, she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Fran sipped her white wine, which the waitress had finally delivered with much tutting and sighing, and flicked through the disappointing menu. She had looked at it for so long, she felt it could be her specialist subject on Mastermind. At 8.03pm, she had put on her coat and was just leaving £5 for the overpriced drink when the door burst open and a man with greying hair rushed in with a small child in tow.
“Fran!” he gasped. Without waiting for her reply, Ian started to apologise, “So sorry I’m late but my ex-wife dumped Drew on me at the last minute and I couldn’t find a babysitter at such short notice.” “Oh,” was all Fran could manage. There’d been no mention of ex-wives or children in their online chats so she had assumed he was youngish, free and single like her.
“Wait a second. Your son is called Drew?” Fran queried. “Yes, it’s actually Andrew but he prefers the shortened version,” replied Ian, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “So his name is Drew Peacock?” “Yes, I think it has a nice ring to it,” beamed Ian, proudly.
Ian bustled around, grabbing a chair for his son, calling for service (good luck with that, she thought), while she removed her coat for the second time that evening and sat down. Ian eyes almost popped out on stalks when he noticed her cleavage and Drew turned to his father and asked in a clear, piping voice, “Daddy, why is that lady showing off her boobies?” Ian tried to laugh it off but Fran was mortified and blushed a deep scarlet while trying to hide behind her menu.
The zombie waitress returned but was transformed. She smiled at Ian and even ruffled Drew’s hair, before returning with their drinks order within a couple of minutes. “It’s nice in here, isn’t it? I only live round the corner so pop in quite a lot.”
Fran lowered the menu and stared open-mouthed at him. She had endured forty minutes on a bus with no heating, driven by a maniac who thought he was in the Paris to Dakar rally and Ian only lived a few minute’s walk away.
The waitress came to take their order and Ian pursed his lips pretending to choose and then said, “Who am I kidding? The usual please, Bronwyn, and my lady friend here will have the same. Oh, and a small margherita pizza for the boy.” Fran was gobsmacked. She didn’t realise that men still existed who thought that women couldn’t order for themselves. “Excuse me,” she spoke directly to Bronwyn, “I’ll have the garlic mushrooms and the carbonara, please.” Ian looked puzzled, “But that’s what I’m having.”
“So you work at the university, then?” Ian asked as he chased a mushroom around his plate. “Yes. I’ve been there about six years now and they’re quite a nice bunch. I sort out the student accommodation, liaise with landlords, that sort of thing.” God, she was even boring herself. “But it’s not as interesting as being a landscape gardener. Tell me about the time you designed a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show.” “Chelsea Flower Show?” Ian asked with a confused look on his face. “Yes, the garden you built with those prisoners that won a silver medal. You mentioned it in your online profile.” “Oh yes, that,” replied Ian as he squirmed in his chair.” Fran suddenly had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, “What do you mean, “Oh yes, that”?” “Er, well I might not have been completely honest about some things online. Obviously I’m divorced and have a kid,” gesturing to Drew who was carefully colouring a dinosaur in blue crayon, “and … I’m not a landscape gardener.” Fran narrowed her eyes, “What do you do then?” “I’m a parks maintenance operative for the Council,” he replied sheepishly. “I mow the grass, do a bit of weeding, sweep up the leaves, you know. I didn’t think that sounded glamorous enough so decided to sex it up a bit.”
“What else did you lie about?” demanded Fran. “Well, my hobbies aren’t rock climbing and caving but I do like to go walking in the Dales at weekends. I’ve started taking the boy whenever I can to get him interested in wildlife and the great outdoors,” Ian smiled down at his son. “Also, I’m not a member of Mensa but I am in a quiz team at my local. And, I’m a bit older than I said and used a photo from about five years ago. Well, you get the drift,” Ian finished lamely. “I suppose that means you’re going to leave now,” he said dejectedly. “It usually does.”
Fran assessed him with a critical eye. Ian wasn’t as young as he’d pretended to be but he was lean from leading an active lifestyle and hadn’t developed a paunch like some men did at his age. He had a silver fox look going for him and she’d always preferred older men. He was a bit rough around the edges but she was sure she could knock him into shape. Above all, he clearly loved his son, despite giving him such an unfortunate name. Anyway, she wasn’t sure she could have coped in a relationship with someone who went rock climbing when she didn’t have a head for heights but walking at the weekends sounded manageable and it might help shift a few pounds too. Hadn’t she also been a bit economical with the truth? She’d never actually finished her degree and had put one of her interests as the theatre when she’d only ever been to see Paul O’Grady play Widow Twanky in panto.
Her decision made, she called out, “Bronwyn, another white wine please.”