Ruby Tuesday

8 Nov

Barney’s day had been a long one that culminated in a heated argument with his last customer of the evening, a thickset man in a brown leather coat, who had taken offence at the fact that the bureau de change in which Barney worked, in the arrivals hall at the airport, wouldn’t touch Albanian currency.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but as I have already said, we don’t carry Lek here. I cannot take your money,’ Barney reiterated to the man.

‘Why not? Why you don’t change my money for me? This is bureau de change, no? I am honest business man, I have factory in Tirana, I am not gangster. Why in every country I get shit for being Albanian? This is honest money! So you will exchange it for me into pounds! Okay?’

The man pulled the huge wad of cash, held together by a rubber band, from his wallet and threw it down onto the counter.

‘There! There is 80,000 Lek. I am not asking you for miracle, just take my Albanian money and give me English. It is not huge amount, something like 500 of your fucking great pounds, with your fucking great Queen’s fucking great face on. Your fucking great pounds that everybody everywhere in the world is so happy to exchange for you. Tell me what is difference between your fucking great pounds and my country’s money. Tell me difference!’ the man shouted, little bits of spittle spraying from the sides of his mouth.

‘The difference is that ours has the fucking great Queen’s fucking great face on it, isn’t it, sir?’ Barney said, calm as you like.

‘You little piece of shit! Get me manager, now! If you don’t hide behind this glass, I teach you to show respect to Albanians. But oh no, you stay behind there, because you know I can kill you. Get me your manager now, I will make sure you have no job tomorrow.’

Barney was tired. He looked above the Albanian man’s head to the clock on the wall and saw that it was 5:52pm. His shift finished at 6. In the back room he heard the clicking of the kettle being switched on. Roberto, who was due to take over for the evening shift, had arrived.

‘I said get me fucking manager!’ the Albanian said with raised voice.

‘Oh yes of course, one moment, sir,’ Barney said, feigning courtesy, and he disappeared through the door behind him into the staff room, where Roberto sat, sipping coffee and reading his Italian newspaper.

‘Alright Robbie? Do us a favour and come out and speak to this bloke, will ya? He won’t go away and he’s starting to get on my tits. Just tell him you’re the manager, listen to him and then make him go away.’

Roberto put down his cup of coffee, straightened his tie and walked through the door to greet the irate customer. Barney didn’t follow him. Instead he picked up a post-it note and wrote on it, ‘Thanks for letting me finish my shift early! Ciao… Barney.’ He stuck it on to the side of Roberto’s AC Milan mug and nipped out the back exit and down to the platform to catch his train home.

Romy had been lucky enough to have the day off work, as a wasps’ nest close to the window of the classroom in which she taught her year 5 pupils had been disturbed, meaning pest control had been called in and the area had been deemed unsafe for the day. This had been a godsend for the teacher, as it had given her the whole afternoon to get ready for her date later in the evening; a date with a man she had been talking to for two weeks but had yet to meet. She spent the morning lying in bed watching trash television, mostly the Jeremy Kyle Show, but didn’t allow herself more than a cup of tea for breakfast as she worried anything more would make her look bloated later on. Come midday, though, she realised the ridiculousness of this plan, as hunger groans in her stomach forced her up out of bed and down to her local Sainsbury’s, where she picked up a Falafel wrap lunch deal with a berry smoothie. ‘I’ll walk it off in the afternoon,’ she told herself.

It had been two weeks and two days since Romy had reluctantly and drunkenly signed up to 30somethingsunluckyinlove.com, the matchmaking website for singles in their 30s who considered themselves to have been unlucky in love. There was no way she ever would have registered on such a site if it hadn’t been for the persuasiveness of her best friend since childhood, Carey, not to mention the consumption between the two of them of four bottles of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Roms, seriously babe, everyone’s doing it nowadays. It’s no longer the domain of creeps, losers, loners and perverts. It’s mainstream! Every day more and more people are getting married to someone that they met online. Awww, hun, I just hate to see you like this. Look at you! You’re gorgeous, you’re clever, you’re funny, you’re the kindest most thoughtful person I know, and that curry was the best I’ve ever tasted! and I’ve been to India! Anyone who can cook like that should not be curled up on their own every evening watching Eastenders. You deserve to be happy, darling,’ Carey told her best friend, before giving her a hug.

‘Oh, it’s no longer the domain of creeps, losers, loners and perverts? Have you ever thought about going into sales? Cos you’ve certainly sold internet dating to me!’ Romy shot back, laughing.

As much as she played the part of court jester whenever she was around friends or colleagues, the truth was that inside Romy was lonely and sad. She had just turned 32, although she didn’t look it, and hadn’t felt the touch of a man, not even a cuddle, for eighteen months. Her partner of seven years and the love of her life, Zach, had cheated on her and then left her for a mutual friend of theirs two years earlier, and she had never gotten over the shock or the pain of it. Shortly after their split she had had a couple of silly flings with men, but nothing meaningful had developed, and she had ended each one by giving the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech.

Since then, she had given up on the idea of ever finding love and happiness. Almost all of her friends, including Carey, were married to the men they’d been with for years. Some had mortgages, some had kids, some took expensive holidays to exotic destinations, and some, it was true, had just settled and were now in marriages of convenience, but still they all had someone to talk about their day with of an evening. All Romy had to greet her when she got home from work was a simple meal that she would cook whilst watching the news, a downloaded film and a book that she took to bed.

‘Look, it’s just like Facebook,’ Carey enthused, scrolling down the site’s homepage on Romy’s laptop. ‘You get to look at everyone’s profile, and when you see something you like, you click the little envelope here and send them a message. Or if you don’t know what to write, just give them a nudge, see, and then wait for them to take the bait and write to you. Indigo at work was telling me about this site yesterday. She’s been on three dates with men she met on here, and says that none of them have been wrong’uns. None have been perfect either, but she said she’s been taken for three nice meals and had some decent conversation. If you don’t fancy this site, we could always try Uniform Dating if you want a man in uniform, JW Dating if you want a Jehovah’s Witness, or Cat Lovers Dating if you want to find a man who loves his cats.’

Both girls laughed.

‘But I hate cats!’ Romy exclamied.

‘Ah Roms, you’re brilliant! I love that you’ve got no qualms with my suggestion you look for a Jehovah’s Witness, but I mention cat lovers and you get all riled! You crack me up! Right, let’s do this. I’ll do the typing. All you have to do is sit back, answer my few questions, and we’ll have you up and running. What username do you want to be known as? How about Foamy Romy?”

‘How about Slap In The Face For Carey? You cheeky cow! Um, I dunno!’ Romy said, whilst crunching on a poppadom. ‘Wait, I’ve got a good one. Seeing as how it’s a tuesday and we’ve just had a curry, lets go with Ruby Tuesday!”

‘Yes! Wait. Why Ruby?’

‘Ruby Murray. Ruby Murray Curry.’

The profile was completed and the girls went through Romy’s picture folders until they found the one in which she looked the most beautiful and the least posey. They then sat up through the night browsing the profiles of men living within a 25-mile radius of Romy’s home, mostly laughing at their profile pictures.

Over the next few days Romy received many pokes, nudges and even messages from interested men, but she was disappointed by the copy and paste nature of them all. All except one, that is. A friendly-faced and handsome man with the username Shakespeare’s Brother started his short message to Romy by pointing out the fact that she looked remarkably similar to Apollonia, the girl that Michael Corleone had married during his exile in Siciliy, in the film The Godfather. Romy was instantly intrigued by the randomness and attention to detail of such a statement. She loved the Godfather films, well, she loved the first two and tolerated the third, but she couldn’t remember what Apollonia looked like. She quickly Googled her, and took the comparison as a compliment. Apollonia was beautiful. ‘I wish I looked like her!’ Romy sighed. And then she smiled at the thought of this nice looking man thinking there was a resemblance.

Romy replied, telling Danny that he looked like Tim from The Office. She added that she had always quite fancied Tim. And from there, a kind of friendship blossomed, as the two of them spent the evenings exchanging messages, chatting about their jobs, music, films, past experiences and anything else that came up in conversation. Danny had a self-deprecating charm that Romy liked. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and often made reference to the fact that while ‘normal people’ were out living their lives in the real world, he was sat indoors, in a pair of football shorts and a t-shirt, talking about his life, or lack of it, to someone he had never met in person but rather had found on a dating site.

During this period of interaction with Danny, Romy didn’t entertain any other man on the site. Not because she felt she owed Danny any sort of loyalty – after all, they were only chatting – but because none of the other people that messaged or poker her seemed worthy of her time. Even when it came to Danny, Romy still battled the constant thought in the front of her mind that this was all so artificial. The only reason that him and her were talking was because they’d each tapped in similar criteria for the sort of person they were looking to meet. It wasn’t real. Fate hadn’t brought them together, loneliness and home broadband had. Still, they did seem to get on well, and she now at least had someone to talk to when settled down for the evening. And so, after almost two weeks of getting to know each other online, Romy felt comfortable enough, just about, to accept Danny’s invite for Thursday night drinks and dinner in the city.

After going for an afternoon stroll around the shops, to buy a new skirt and to walk off her lunch, Romy took a long shower, conditioned her hair, and then spent a long time in front of the mirror making herself look as beautiful as she could, whilst also trying her best to remain casual looking. She let her long dark hair fall down over her shoulders, she put on the minimal amount of make-up, and she dressed in her new purple wrap-around skirt, with her favourite black jumper. She sprayed on some perfume, not too much, put the things she needed for the night into her handbag, and then walked out the door and down to the station to catch her train into town.

Her train pulled in and it was busier than she had hoped it would be. After walking through the carriages she finally managed to find an empty seat, next to an old man in a green army coat who smelt musty. In her line of sight, across the aisle and one set of seats up, sat facing towards her, was a man eating a fruit salad whilst holding conversation with a friend. ‘I don’t mind having to look at him all journey,’ she thought.

Danny had spent his day driving around the city and surrounding areas, following instructions from his boss, the editor of the local rag that he was photographer for. Today he had taken the picture of a woman who had been spared a prison sentence by the judge for killing a neighbour’s duck; a flooded subway; a footballer from the local professional league club visiting sick children in hospital; and a man, referred to in the headline as a hoarder, who was being evicted from his home by the council as it ‘did not meet basic standards’. It was all just another day at the office for him. The only difference to every other day was that he had something to look forward to at the end of this one. A date. With a woman that he had a good feeling about.

Danny was 26 years old and had worked on the paper since finishing his NVQ in photography at the age of 18. It wasn’t the career that he had dreamed of, but it paid the bills, he didn’t have to be stuck in an enclosed environment, and he often got free tickets to sporting and musical events in the city. Danny was a decent looking lad, but hadn’t had a girlfriend since college. He knew what his biggest problem was, it was that he too easily and too quickly fell into the friend zone. Almost all of his friends were women. And almost all of these friendships had blossomed after Danny had been out on a date or two with the woman in question. He lacked that killer instinct; that ability to seal the deal. He chatted away comfortably, he listened like the best of them, he was knowledgeable on almost every subject, and he was considerate. His problem was that he was too nice! But no matter how many friends told him this and tried to give him advice on how to be a little bit meaner, or a bit more affirmative, he just couldn’t change the way he was.

Over time, Danny watched each of his female friends find boyfriends who soon became fiancés, and he felt himself getting left behind. Soon there were less and less friends available to pass the evenings drinking with, as most men weren’t keen on the idea of their new girlfriend spending much time with her single male friend. Danny was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and managed to remain pragmatic when looking at the different situations around him. He was a cool character and never let his emotions show in public. To combat any risk of loneliness rearing its ugly head, he watched films almost constantly when not at work. He had over 1000 downloaded to his hard drive. He hoped soon to be watching some of them with Romy.

As he shaved, he stared into his reflection in the mirror and repeated over and over, ‘Do not fall into the friend zone! Do not fall into the friend zone! If the right moment comes, kiss her! Kiss her on the doorstep and then say no when she asks you in for a coffee. Keep her keen.’

But before he had even finished shaving, he found himself saying, ‘What are you talking about? You’re already in the friend zone. You’ve spent the last two weeks becoming her friend!’

He put on his ironed shirt, jeans and polished shoes and made his way to the Swan’s Beard, the pub where he had arranged to meet Romy at 7 for a drink before they headed off to an Italian restaurant for dinner.

The only downside to Barney being able to catch the earlier train home was that it meant having to sit with Jake, who worked in the airport’s train station, selling tickets. Jake talked too much, and in a monotonous voice. But he was harmless enough, and Barney was too polite to try and hide behind his newspaper as Jake made his way up the carriage.

‘Hello Barney, mate. Someone got away early, eh? Lucky you,’ Jake said, whilst putting his bag on the rack above their heads and then sitting down opposite his mate.

‘Hey Jake, you alright?’

‘Yes mate, can’t complain…….’ and then, as the wheels of the train began rolling, Jake started recounting stories from his day while Barney got himself into smile and nod mode.

‘Can you believe that? She expected me to just change her ticket for free! What, because she’s got a pretty face I’m supposed to bend the rules? She should have woken up earlier and she wouldn’t have missed her train!’

Barney smiled and nodded. From his bag he pulled out a tub of fruit salad and began picking at the chunks of pineapple. The train made its first stop, in the small town of Earlsham. A dark-haired woman made her way up the carriage towards Barney and took the one empty seat, to the right of him but facing his way. Jake was telling him about the 17-year old who had tried to get away with travelling on a child’s ticket ealier that day, – ‘Then why aren’t you at school?’ I asked him,’ – but Barney wasn’t listening. He was watching the woman as she fidgeted around, making herself comfortable. She was stunning! He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Every time he looked away, he was immediately drawn back.

Romy was staring blankly down at her lap, but she sensed that she was being looked at by the fruit salad eating man. This ruined her plans of sneakily looking at him. He had beaten her to it. But she wanted to look so badly. She had already forgotten what he looked like, and she wanted to check to see if he actually was as good-looking as she remembered him from two minutes earlier. She looked up and shot him a glance out of the corner of her eye. He was better than she remembered. Barney, feeling like he had been caught staring, quickly turned to Jake, who was still talking rubbish, and went back to smile and nod mode. Romy liked his smile.

‘So anyway, that was my day,’ said Jake, ‘How about yours. Anything interesting happen?’

‘Not really. Pretty standard, to be honest. Ended with a large Albanian man, who looked like Tony Soprano, threatening to kill me and trying to get me sacked. As I said, standard.’

Jake laughed but Barney didn’t notice. He did notice the dark-haired girl doing her best to suppress a smile at what he had just said. They caught eye contact for a couple of seconds, before both nervously looking away. Again Barney turned his attentions back to Jake.

‘What did you do to warrant this latest death threat, then?’ Jake asked.

‘Oh you know, the usual. Told the customer we didn’t deal with Albanian currency. Dropped the F bomb a few times. Threw a bit of sarcasm into the mix, just to keep it interesting. Just doing my job, basically. Then this guy gets all Schwarzeneger on me. “I am Big Albanian bear! I will crush you! I eat breakfast that is bigger and tougher than you! Ra ra ra!”‘ Barney had his chest puffed out and put on a deep voice.

Jake laughed, so too did Romy, although she did her best to hide it by looking out the window and feigning disinterest in anything or anyone in the carriage. But Barney had caught it.

The train stopped again and half of the people in the carriage got off, including those that were sitting around Romy.

Barney’s head filled with thoughts of bravado. He should stand up, walk over to the girl and ask if he can join her in one of the empty seats. He would say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this. In fact, I’ve never done this before in my life, but I just had to come over here and talk to you because I think you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever set eyes upon.’

What was he thinking? He couldn’t do that! What was wrong with him? He would be humiliated. Laughed off the train. He wasn’t American! This wasn’t America! You can’t just go up to a stranger and tell her she’s beautiful, or that you’d like to take her out. You cannot approach someone just because you fancy them. You just can’t get away with that sort of maverick approach on this little island of ours. No, protocol insists that in this situation the only accepted form of behaviour is to keep sneaking a peak at that person’s pretty face as much as you can without getting caught too often. And if that person looks at you whilst you are looking at them, then both parties must immediately look away and feel embarrassed. This is the English way.

As the train rolled on, it became clearer than crystal to both parties that they couldn’t take their eyes off of each other. This attraction, stronger than any either of them had felt towards a stranger before, was mutual. Jake was still talking but Barney had completely zoned out. Romy, noticing Barney’s smile and nod technique, and also noticing that he wasn’t taking the blindest bit of notice to his mate, allowed herself to catch eye contact with him, and this time she held it for three seconds. And so did he. They broke it off with a smile. What was happening here? Neither of them could explain. But it felt like something.

‘So, are you up for it or not? Barney! Yes or no?’ Jake was saying.

‘Um, sorry mate, I missed that last bit. Yes or no what?’

‘Yes or no are you coming to the pub for a couple of pints when we get off the train?’

‘I can’t tonight, mate. I’m not going all the way home, I’m getting off at Freshgate. Otherwise I would.’

‘Oh, right, okay. You stopping in at your grandad’s?’

Yep, he’s not been feeling too clever this past week. So I just pop in on my way home each evening to do him a bit of dinner and sit with him for a bit.’

Romy was taken aback. It was as if someone had handed her a checklist for what she would be looking for in her perfect man, and that he was going down the list with her, ticking off all the boxes. He was good-looking, funny, charismatic, and he went out of his way every evening to stop in on his grandad. And on top of all that, he couldn’t stop looking at her with eyes that smiled even when his mouth didn’t. She cursed life, because she knew that in less than ten minutes this man would get off the train and walk down the platform and out of her life. Even though she didn’t know him from Adam, and that they hadn’t ever spoken a word to each other, she felt inside her an overpowering desire to get to know this man. And Barney, even though he couldn’t explain it, felt exactly the same about her.

The two continued to keep looking over at each other. Each time one felt the other one looking, he or she would slowly turn their head and lock in some more eye contact. Any nervousness had gone. These two were smitten and they didn’t care how much it showed.

Romy’s mobile rang.

‘Hello mum… Yea I’m okay, thanks……. Yes, I’m on my way to it now……. Just a long skirt and a jumper…..  Don’t worry about that, it won’t be a late one, I’ve got work tomorrow…… Yea the exterminators got rid of it, so it’s safe for the kids to come back….. Look, I’m about to go through a tunnel, can I call you tomorrow?….. Okay, yep, love you too, bye… Bubbye.’

What a lovely voice she had! And how nicely spoken! Barney wanted to listen to her speak forever.

Romy had actually forgotten why she was on the train and where she was going. But her mum had reminded her. And now it just didn’t sit right. This, this chance encounter on a train, this was real. Searching for someone online or being picked by someone because you have a nice profile photo or similar interests, that’s not real. She was in crisis. What was she meant to do now?

The train stopped.

‘Right, see ya later, mate.’

Barney patted jake on the shoulder and made his way to the door, passing Romy on the way and holding eye contact with her until he had passed. He stepped off into the cold air and watched as the train disappeared into the distance.

He berated himself on the platform, ‘Fuuuuuuuuck! Why didn’t you do something? Say something? Do anything? Ah what could I have done?’

And he made his way to his grandad’s house, where he cooked him some pie and mash and sat with him while he ate. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about the woman from the train. He wondered if she was thinking about him. Why would she be? Idiot! Why would she be thinking about you?

As the train approached the lights of the city and its final stop, Romy stood up abruptly. She had to do this before she talked herself out of it. She couldn’t believe what she was about to do. This wasn’t her! Or was it? Maybe this had been inside her all along and she’d always just battled to keep it locked away. This is what the heroine would do in the French films that she loved so much.

‘Excuse me, I’m really sorry to bother you, but can I ask you something please?’ she said.

Jake, taken aback by how pretty this woman talking to him was, and seeing her for the first time as he had had his back to her the whole journey, said, ‘Well, technically you already have, but I will permit you a second question?’

‘I was just wondering, um, oh my God, I can’t believe I’m doing this, but, your friend who just got off the train, is he, does he, um, well, what I’m trying to say is….. is he single?’

Jake laughed. ‘Who? Barney? You want to know if Barney is single?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘I can tell you that Barney is very single. I don’t think he does relationships, actually. Likes to be a free spirit. Why do you ask?’

Romy was shaking with nerves as she spoke, and was well aware that the remaining passengers in the carriage were all listening in to this bit of theatre on their commute home.

‘Well, would you please do me a big favour. If I give you my phone number, would you please pass it on to him and tell him it’s from the woman who sat opposite him on today’s ride home. He’ll know who you mean if you tell him that. Would you do that for me, please?’

‘Man, that guy is blessed! Why do beautiful women like you never ask my mates for my number?’

Jake laughed and then, holding the pen that he had been using to do the Sudoku in the free paper with, said, ‘Of course I will. Go on then, what are your digits?’

Romy told him her number and he wrote it down in the top corner of the newspaper.

‘Tell him my name’s Romy,’ she said.

‘I definitely will. Romy, that’s an interesting name, not heard that one before.’

“It’s short for Rosemary, but only my parents call me that. Can you tell him that I can’t take calls or reply to texts in the daytime when I’m at work. I’m a teacher, though, so I only work school hours. Anytime after 3pm is good.’

‘I’ll be sure to pass that on, Romy.’

‘Thank you so much. I still can’t believe I’m doing this! Anyway, thanks again. Bye.’

‘Bye.’

Romy, feeling the stares of the other passengers, left the carriage and walked down the train to sit away from scrutiny for the final few minutes of the journey. Jake picked up the newspaper, rolled it up and stuck it inside his bag. The train rolled in to its final stop. Everyone got off.

It was coming up for 7 and Danny was getting nervous. He had already downed two Vodka Red Bulls and was now nursing a pint, in an attempt to slow down. The Swan’s Beard was a quiet pub, the type where the barman befriends the lone drinker and lets him speak his mind or pour out his heart. For now, though, Danny was only prepared to talk casually about recent football results. He was not the type to give away anything about how he was feeling or what he was thinking.

Romy walked from the platform to the concourse, looked up at the departures board, and saw that the same train from which she had just disembarked was about to go back in the opposite direction. She took a pound coin from her purse.

‘Heads I go on the date, tails I go home,’ she said to herself.

The coin span in the air before landing on the white marble floor. Tails it was. She passed back through the ticket gate and sat in exactly the same seat she had on the way in. The guard blew his whistle, the final few passengers raced up the platform and squeezed in the closing doors, and they were on their way.

Barney kissed the top of his grandad’s head, told him he’d pop in again tomorrow, and left the house. He was walking down his grandad’s road when his phone rang.

He looked at the screen, “Incoming Call from Jake.” He sighed, he’d already told him he wasn’t up for a pint, he really couldn’t be bothered to talk to him, but still he was too polite to cancel or ignore the call.

‘Hello mate, what’s up?’ he said, answering the phone.

‘You won’t believe me when I tell you,’ Jake replied.

Instantly, a strange feeling came over Barney. He knew, he just knew, that this had something to do with the girl from the train.

‘What? What is it?’

‘Well, after you got off the train earlier, this woman who had been sitting up the carriage came up to me and……..’

‘The dark-haired woman? The one who had been sitting opposite me? Go on!’

‘I guess it was her, yea, she was dark-haired and really quite tasty. Gorgeous actually. Anyway, she asked me if you were single…’

Barney interrupted, ‘And what did you say?’

‘Well, you are single, aren’t you?’

‘Yes! Did you tell her that?’

‘Well yea, why would I lie? Anyway, then she gave me her number and asked if I would pass it on to you. So, are you ready to take this down?’

‘Yes! Jake, I could kiss you. In fact, when I see you next I will kiss you. With tongues! You little beauty! What’s the number?’

‘0 7 9 2 9 9 6 3 7 0. Her name’s Romy, and she said it’s best to contact her any time after 3 in the afternoon cos she works in a school. She’s a teacher.’

‘Say it again, Jake, please mate.’

‘She works in a school, so…….’

‘No, not that bit. The number! Tell me the number again.’

‘0 7 9 2 9 9 6 3 7 0.’

‘Please tell me you’re on a wind-up here. Please! You’re just playing with me, right, this is a joke.’

‘What are you on about, mate? That’s the number she gave me,’ Jake said, confusedly.

‘That’s only ten digits. There’s a number missing! That’s not enough digits! Man, that’s not a full telephone number!’

Jake looked at the top corner of the newspaper and counted each digit with his index finger. Barney was right, there was a number missing.

‘I’m sorry, Barney. She said it all quite fast, she was obviously a bit nervous, and I guess I was too, cos the whole carriage was watching us. It’s my fault! I wrote it down and didn’t ask her to repeat it. Fuck! Well, maybe she’ll be on that same train again. Maybe it’s the train she takes home from work.’

‘No Jake. No! You could see she wasn’t dressed in work clothes. And I’ve never ever seen her on any train before. All I know is that she got on at Earlsham. This just turned from one of the best days of my life to one of the worst! I’ll speak to you later. Bye.’

It was quarter past eight and Romy was putting a potato in the oven. Danny downed his fourth Vodka Red Bull and ordered another, this time a double. He knew in his heart that she wasn’t coming. Romy got changed into her pyjamas and opened up her lap-top. ‘Shit!’ she thought, ‘I forgot to tell Danny I wouldn’t be turning up! The poor guy will be waiting!’

They hadn’t exchanged phone numbers, but she knew he had an iPhone, so she sent him an email via the dating site, saying that something had come up and that she couldn’t make it, and that she was really very sorry. As soon as it was sent, she deleted her profile from the site.

Danny’s phone beeped to alert him to the incoming message. He read it, downed his drink and ordered another. His new plan for the evening was to get absolutely wasted.

Romy sat watching the telly, jacket potato with cheese on her lap, and with her phone next to her at all times, as she waited for Barney to send her a message or maybe even call her. She hoped to God that it would be a message first, though, as she would be far too nervous to speak to him straight away. After about an hour it finally beeped. Romy jumped on it! It was a text from Carey asking how the date was going. Disappointed, she put the phone back on the arm of the settee. For the next few hours, before she went to bed, she hardly watched the telly, she couldn’t take her eyes off of the phone. But the longer it went without beeping, the more she convinced herself that she had made a big mistake.

‘He must think I’m a total weirdo. Some kind of stalker! I’m a stranger, for crying out loud, who just told his friend to give my number to him. He won’t even know who I am. Good! What have I done?’ she thought.

The barman rang the bell for last orders. Danny ordered the same again, along with a couple of shots of tequila, one for him, one for the barman. The barman accepted. The pub was empty anyway, but for Danny and a couple out on a date, sat quietly in the corner at a candlelit table.

‘What’s the point, John? What is the point?’ Danny asked the barman.

‘The point is that my name’s not John. But apart from that, what do you mean? It’s pretty obvious you’ve been stood up. Do you wanna tell me about it?’

And for the first time in his life, Danny opened up. He told the barman his whole story. Ending with, ‘It’s all so pointless. I go to bed every night, alone, telling myself that it won’t always be like this, that the woman of my dreams is just around the corner, and we’ll meet and fall in love and grow old together and be happy. You know? But it’s about time I faced the truth, isn’t it? I’m going to be alone forever!’

The barman chuckled. ‘Would you have a listen to yourself? You’re still a kid! How old are you?’

‘I’m not a kid. I’m 26.’

‘You’re a kid! I didn’t meet my wife until I was close to 40. Believe it or not, I was just like you. I went years without a companion, years thinking that I was destined to be alone, years thinking that in the real world people found each other every day like they do in the Hollywood films, and that there must be something wrong with me because while everyone else was falling in love, I was mooching about on my own. But that isn’t how life works. Believe me! Right now you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. But let me tell you something…….’

The barman poured the two of them a Scotch.

‘On the house,’ he said, ‘Now, where was I? Ah yea. It’s like this. Some people are lucky and fall in love with their childhood sweetheart and stay together until they die. Others are lucky and play the numbers game, going out with plenty of different people until they find the right one, and then they stick. But the ones that are the luckiest in life….. They are you and I.’

‘Yea, don’t I feel like the lucky one!’ Danny interrupted.

‘You just don’t know it yet!’ the barman continued, ‘But one day you will. The ones that are luckiest in life are the ones who accidentally stumble into love when they least expect it, and when they can’t see it crossing the road in front of them and wandering into their path. You see, you get used to being alone. You learn to survive. It makes you strong. You are wandering around the desert, lost, dehydrated, tired, but you keep going because your body has adapted to its environment. You can live without water now. Yea, you are missing something, something important, the most important thing actually. But you don’t know it. You don’t know what you are missing. You just carry on walking. And walking. And walking. Through the desert. And then one day….. Boom! A lake! And never again will you want for anything. Do you understand what I’m saying?’

‘Yes. No. I dunno. I won’t keep you any longer. Thanks John,’ Danny said, before walking out the door.

‘My name’s not John!’ the barman shouted after him, ‘Whatever. Mind how you go!’

That night, no one slept.

Romy lay in her bed, tossing and turning, picking her phone up off of the bedside cabinet every few minutes to see if she had missed it beeping.

Danny was going to call in sick to work the next day. To combat the loneliness he stuck a pizza in the oven and settled down to watch the first two Godfather films. He didn’t care for the third.

Barney did a Google search and found that there were three schools in Earlsham; a primary school, a secondary school and a Church of England school. He drafted an email that he would send to the headteacher of each one:

“Dear Headteacher,

I know this is a strange request, but it might just be one that changes lives. I am trying to get hold of an old friend of mine that I have lost contact with. I know only that she works as a teacher in a school in Earlsham. Her name is Romy, well, Rosemary, but if you know her you will know her as Romy. I appreciate that under no circumstances would it be acceptable for you to give me her details, but I ask you, if indeed she does work at your school, to please pass on my email address to her and tell her that I am Barney and that I have lost her phone number, and would she please get in touch.

Many thanks in advance,

Sincerely,

Barney Gascoigne.”

He would send it in the morning.

love-at-first-sight11

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

thisisyouth

On the quest to live an interesting life.

an aimless hitchhiker...

a diary of a vagabond woman

Apropos of Nothing

for writing out loud

Projecting the Void

Random scribblings from the diaphanous inner mind of a neon cat

Atheisting

religion, politics, & sexuality from a feminist freethinker.

dinsanga11

Stoner's Story

FLOCKZINE

Childhood | Adulthood

Kryssie's Blog

I listen, I think, I speak.

The Girl with the Mousy Hair

The Day-to-Day Musings of a British, Bowie-loving University Student

elizabethburgess15

A PhD student's thoughts on all things Spanish and Sociolinguistics

A long way to justice: A route to the Roma grassroots

Vicente and Rebekah drive Spain to India.

Pinkjumpers

The corner of the internet where you should probably turn around.

Express Me, Then Depress Me

Suffers from instant need to flash breasts and yell at strangers. People think it's my inner feminist, but no, I'm just crazy, and not always in a fun way.

%d bloggers like this: