Chapter 3

Three Years Later

 

Will checked his watch for the third time in a minute. As he did so, he put his right hand in his jacket pocket, and touched the nearly empty cigarette packet; he’d stopped smoking three months previously, but as an aid, he’d kept one in reserve. Just knowing it was there should he need it was a comfort, and so far it had worked. He wasn’t sure that it would tonight, however. He’d never been on a blind date before.

After three years of inactivity on the girlfriend front, Sonia had suggested he go for a meal with Tina, a friend of Sonia’s sister. All Will knew about her was that she was in her mid-forties, divorced and childless. He was happy about the childless part. Not that he expected tonight to turn into a long-term relationship, but in case she was the woman of his dreams, he’d rather she came unencumbered. He didn’t know how he’d get on with someone else’s children.

He checked his watch again. 8.29 on a Saturday evening. They’d arranged to meet at 8.30 outside the Slug and Lettuce; a stupid name for a pub, but it was close to the restaurant they were going to. He’d thought long and hard about where to go, as he didn’t want to look cheap, but at the same time he couldn’t afford anywhere expensive. A curry or a Chinese seemed too obvious. He thought about Italian, but was always fearful of eating spaghetti in public; he’d ruined too many silk ties over the years.

So Thai was the final choice. He had never had it before, but everyone he knew seemed to think it was the finest food on the planet, so it seemed like he should at least try it. Hopefully Tina would like it. She’d seemed keen when they had spoken on the phone earlier in the week.

8.31. OK, now she’s late. Will hated lateness, regardless of what he was doing or who was late. ‘Better to be half an hour early than a minute late’ was his motto. Never mind, don’t get upset. It’s only a minute. You’ve got the whole evening ahead of you. Just because you’ve been here since five to eight.

He really wanted a cigarette, but it was too late now. If he’d had one when he first got there, he might have got away with it, but he didn’t want to be smoking as she turned up, in case it put her off.

He walked over to the restaurant to look at the menu for the third time, on the basis that the more he looked at it, the less time he would need to choose once they got there. Whenever that may be.

8.35. He walked back to the pub. Standing outside looking around her was a woman who clearly was there to meet someone. OK, let’s have a quick assessment before we say hello. Smart, but not in an expensive way. The dress looks like it came from M&S, which is fine by me. That’s pretty much where all my clothes have come from. Natural blonde? I can’t see any roots, so I’m guessing yes. Good looking, in a mid-forties sort of way. Well-rounded figure, which is just what I’m looking for.

“Hi, are you Tina?”

“Yes. You must be Will. You’re just as Sonia described.”

“Hopefully, that’s a good thing,” he said, offering his hand. He knew it was a bit of a lame thing to say, but he hadn’t been on a date since he had first taken Abi to the park for lunch twenty five years ago. He was a bit rusty when it came to small talk.

Tina took his hand, and pulled him towards her to kiss him on the cheek. “Lovely to meet you.”

What the fuck? I’ve only just this minute met you. I didn’t kiss Abi until the third date at least, and here you are assuming that I’m going to be happy for you to invade my personal space and plant your lips on my cheek?

Will didn’t even kiss his sister on the odd occasions that they saw each other. Apart from Abi, the only other woman he had felt comfortable kissing had been his mother, on the cheek, obviously, but since she had died the previous year, and he had been separated from Abi for five years, close contact with women had been restricted to accidently touching them on the bus whilst trying to get past.

“Right, well, OK. Do you want a drink in here first, or shall we go straight to the restaurant?” Will tried not to sound too bumbling and nervous. A drink would be a good idea as far as he was concerned, and would help settle his nerves. Hopefully.

“Ooh, a drink first, please. Come on, I’ll get them.”

She walked through the door and up to the bar to order. “A large vodka and tonic please. And you, Will?”

“A pint of lager, please. Are you sure you don’t want me to get these?”

“No, that’s fine. You can get the next one.”

While the barman was pouring his pint, Will had a look around the pub to see if there were any empty tables. It was a fairly new place, and the décor was a bit too modern for his taste in pubs. Metal framed mirrors on every wall, and metal framed glass top tables. What’s wrong with some wood? Even worse than the metal were the sofas and armchairs at the front of the pub, placed in the window so passers-by would be fooled into thinking this was a place to sit and wile away the afternoon nursing a single cup of coffee and reading the Guardian from cover to cover. He’d tried it once (not the Guardian, obviously; he hadn’t sunk that low) and after half an hour the staff had asked that he either order something else or leave. He left.

“Do you fancy sitting in the window?” Tina picked up her glass and started walking towards the sofas before he had a chance to answer. Thankfully for Will, they were all taken. “Never mind, here’s a table. We can take this and move over if anyone leaves.” Will hadn’t actually said anything since picking up his glass at the bar. He feared he could tell how the evening was going to progress.

The table was against the wall. Will sat down and took a long drink, while he thought of something to say. What do you for a living? Where do you live? Have you been on holiday yet? With this line of patter, would I have been better off being a hairdresser?

He needn’t have worried. Tina got the conversation going herself.

“Now, I guess we’d better tell each other a little about ourselves. I’ll start. I’m in my forties, been divorced for five years, no children thank God. I work for the local council. I like reading and walking, but most of all I like to have good-looking men buy me dinner and get me drunk.”

Oh shit. This had all the signs of being an expensive night.

Will took a drink and quickly summed up what she had said before responding. Right, she’s in her forties. Not her ‘early’ forties or even her ‘mid’ forties. So I’d say late forties. Not that it matters. So am I. Not so sure about the ‘no children thank God’ bit though. Does she hate children, or is she glad they didn’t have to go through the divorce? Reading is good. Walking I could tolerate. Getting her drunk sounds expensive and like it might lead to something. Oh, dear.

“Well, OK. Over to me. I’m also in my forties, although not for long. I’ve been separated for five years, and I believe the Decree Nisi will be through soon. Two children, a girl of fifteen and a boy of thirteen. I work for a bank, I like reading and watching TV, listening to music. But I’m not a big drinker, I’m afraid.”

God, Will, you can sound boring at times.

“Decree Nisi? When? We should be celebrating. Drink up, I’ll buy you another.”

“Why?” Suddenly he felt rather irritated.

“Because the first one was to say hello. The second one is to toast your divorce.”

The irritation didn’t last long. Now it was full-blown anger.

“No, I don’t mean why are you buying me another drink. I mean why should we be celebrating? It’s a divorce. I haven’t won the lottery, or discovered a cure for cancer, or even found a new job. My marriage will be over. Finished. The only woman I have ever loved will no longer be my wife. And you want to get drunk? I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m quite ready to see the positives. I’m also not ready to be dating other women. I think I’d best go home. Sorry to have wasted your evening.”

He stood up, nodded his head towards her, and walked out of the pub. She didn’t say a word.

Fuck Thai. I’m going for a kebab.

The bus stop was just down the road, a little too close to the pub for his liking, so he continued walking, heading for the next stop. As he walked he had his hand in his jacket pocket, feeling the cigarette packet, opening and closing the box to run his finger over the little white tube like it was a security blanket.

How dare she? Why would I want to celebrate? Or more to the point, why would she? Not only have we only just met, but she hasn’t the faintest idea of what Abi is like and whether there is even a reason to rejoice. Added to which, it hasn’t even happened yet. It’s hardly something to be celebrating.

He continued walking, not noticing that he had already passed the next bus stop. As the shops ended and the road became lined with houses he looked around in realisation. Ah well, I may as well carry on walking now. It was only a mile or so to his flat, and the exercise would build up his appetite nicely for an extra-large doner kebab and maybe some baklava for dessert.

Half an hour later he could see the kebab shop in the distance, with a few youths hanging around outside. As he got closer, he could see that they were not the intimidating kind, more middle class university types, no doubt lining their stomachs before a night of drinking.

A couple of them looked at him as he walked past and into the shop, so he gave them a slight smile and walked straight in.

The shop was empty; 9.15 was a little too early for most people to be tucking into a spicy meat-filled pita, but that was fine by Will. He was looking forward to getting home before the pubs started to empty and the fast food places started to fill up.

“Hello.”

“Good evening, sir. How are you?”

“I’m fine thank you. Can I have an extra-large doner and a piece of baklava, please?”

“Certainly sir. Would you like a drink?”

“Yes please, I’ll have a Tango. Thank you.”

Five minutes later the pita had been warmed and was in the process of being stuffed with sliced meat, which was supposedly minced lamb, but Will had his doubts. It could have been horse for all he knew, but he couldn’t care less so long as it tasted OK.

“Chilli sauce and salad, sir?”

“Yes please. Just lettuce and tomato, please. No cabbage.”

“Yes sir.”

Will left the shop clutching his plastic carrier bag containing the warm kebab, not quite chilled enough can of Tango and fresh out of the chiller cabinet baklava, safe in the knowledge that by the time he got home their temperatures would have moved further towards equilibrium than he would have liked, but so long as the kebab was still warm, he didn’t really mind.

Now all he had to worry about was what to say to Sonia Monday morning. Boy, was she going to be mad.

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