She had worn her thinnest jacket because it alluded to the thin body underneath it but she was cold. Uncomfortably so. The wind was blowing harsh on the East Side Bridge where they had planned to meet. The road part was closed after 7pm so there was no loud stream of traffic or choking car fumes which was much to the delight of her inner craving for peace. She dawdled along the road and on the sides of the bridge, glancing down at the water with a nervous breath of anticipation flaring up every so often. Her usually pale hands were beet red under the darkness. The music coming from her phone at 19:11pm suddenly stopped playing. She removed the headphones from her ears and coiled them carefully around the phone, slipping it into her faux snakeskin clutch.
She finally stopped walking and began to stare at the gentle black waves on the water and thought about how everything seemed calmer at night. It was people that ruined it. All of a sudden there was a tap on her shoulder.
There was tall, young brunette man with a very pronounced jaw whose face she recognised from pictures. His eyes were forgettable blue.
“Surprise” he said, predictably. Ronnie smiled awkwardly and entered into a premeditated hug.
“Nice to see you” she greeted. On dates she always found herself coming out with things she didn’t even mean.
“How’s my favourite girl doing?” He came across unsettlingly confident for a man interacting with a girl who for once, looked as perfect she did in her profile pictures.
“I’m fine. And you?”
“I’m great. Shall we get going? The city is this way. Unless you wanna go swim” he said, putting his big bear arm round her back. She was just glad for the warmth. She made a polite laughter type sound.
“You know, it’s been one of those days. Remember the promotion meeting I was telling you about this morning? They decided to postpone it. I was all psyched up for it today as well. I just want to get it sooner rather than later because I need to book my Easter skiing in the Alps. Go every year. Not always the alps though. You can ski anywhere these days. And the raise they’re gonna give me is you know, a few more thou a month to play around with. I work my arse off so I’ve got a lot of playing to do. I’m still young” He laughed, loudly to himself. He laughed a lot, a little insecurity flag.
“Maybe if you play your cards right you’ll be skiing with me and the boys one day” he said, using a suggestive tone.
Ronnie squirmed beneath her jacket.
“Haha yeah. That sounds fun. Skiing”
She had been skiing once. Her dad took her when she was 6 and she had hated every second of it because she despised being cold, and the glare of the snow hurt her eyes. Her dad had only gotten into it to fit in with his peers at work, it was what all the families of the dads at the firm did. Sometimes Ronnie would hide in the highest loft room of the lodge, the one with the tiny fireplace so she didn’t have to play with the other children. Her dad found her once told her to go down and socialise.
They walked across the bridge and into the Friday night city, his arm still uncomfortably wrapped around her. The quiet hum of the bars knew not was to spill out at their 3am doors.
“My favourite cocktail bar is on this corner” he gestured.
“Oh that’s nice. I love cocktails. Maybe too much. I try not to have too many otherwise I get really drunk. I think they’re the best kind of drinks, cocktails”
“Ha well well well, I guess I’m taking you there then. I was going to say I know this other great pizza joint but cocktails it is” He breathed a sigh of relief knowing his encounter would be lubricated and raised a thick, cocky eyebrow to himself.
Ronnie was too shy to say she would have preferred pizza.
“You’re so nineteen” he mused, running his hands through his thick brown hair as they walked on.
“What do you mean?”
“So young, so…full of energy and all that”
“You knew I was nineteen when we started talking” she said, slightly bruised.
“Oh I know it’s just, you know it’s always different in real life. It’s not a bad thing-you forget what nineteen year olds are like. No offence”
“You’re not much older than me”
“Ha, my friends wouldn’t agree” he laughed loudly. The were at the bar entrance. There were groups of people outside smoking and talking loudly into each others faces. Ronnie noticed all the girls with flaking mascara and all the men who had their hands in their pockets. The doorman gave her date the nod.
“So, what’s a nineteen year old gal doing with herself these days?” He asked her, as he held the door open for her. There was an awkward shuffle of her trying to start answering then them getting shown to a tall table by a waiter. The stools were too high up to be comfortable. Ronnie was hurriedly forming an answer in her head to his question. Her thoughts were racing more than usual.
“Look at the menu babe” he said loudly over the music, sliding the sticky slice of cardboard across the table. She looked up at him and he had suddenly become engrossed in his. An 80’s sounding song that had been remixed to within an inch of it’s life was pumping out of the speakers. She skimmed through the vast list of cocktails in confusion and decided to choose the one with the prettiest name.
“What you having babe?”
She wasn’t sure when she had gained the title of babe. It was like unlocking a new level in a video game. Either that or the guy was a creep who called everyone and anyone “babe”.
“The cherry blossom”
“Ha, perfect for you” he grinned. She smiled falsely at this oft-experienced casual racism. Rich White men thought they could say anything when they were picking up the bill. Ronnie was ready to tell him what she was doing with her nineteen year old self. He clicked his fingers and an annoyed looking blonde waitress bustled over carrying a couple of empty glasses. He ordered two zombies for himself and two cherry blossom’s. He grinned the waitress a toothy grin and said
“Thanks babe” and she walked off.
“So, whatdya think of the place?” He asked expectantly.
“It’s really cool!” She said, raising her voice to match the level of the music
“The music is good..but pretty loud!” She smiled awkwardly
“Yeah I think it’s at the perfect level” he shouted
“It makes it feel like more of a party”
She scanned her mind for questions to ask him, but she had basically interviewed him before they had met. He was the kind of guy that answered questions about himself that hadn’t been asked yet. It was his fifth first date that month.
“So what’s a pretty girl like you doing without a boyfriend anyway? You crazy or something?” He said, softening the statement with a laugh. She paused for a second, at a genuine loss for an answer, feeling a bit pathetic. She shrugged.
“Why does a pretty girl have to have a boyfriend?”
“Ha, well sweetie. Someone’s gotta pick up the cheques at the end of dinner” he said, winking. She wasn’t sure if he had winked on purpose. She shrugged again.
“I don’t mind being alone”
“Is that why you were on a dating site?” He smiled wryly.
“I’m joking honey, don’t look so mad” he said, as the waitress placed the cocktails on their table.
“Enjoy” she chirped, without feeling.
“So, what happened to the last one?”
“We just I guess, grew apart” Ronnie had never had a boyfriend.
“Oh I know that totally. I had that with one of my exes, Carly. So one day we decided to go to the cinema to see a film and usually we chose what we were seeing before we went and all but not this time. The last time might I add. So we got there and I wanted to see Space Dinosaurs 2 and she wanted to see Married In Vegas. And I said Carly, we went to see space dinosaurs on our first date, don’t you want to see the sequel? And she said no, I never really liked Space Dinosaurs I’d rather see Married In Vegas. And that was the first time I was like damn-I think me and this girl are something different you know when we used to be the same”
“What did you end up seeing?”
“Oh I dunno it was… some crappy western. I just remember us NOT seeing Space Dinosaurs 2 and me working it all out from there”
“Everything ends sooner or later” she said casually
“Alright slow down babe, we haven’t even got through the first drink yet” he laughed
“No I didn’t mean…I just”
“Haha it’s fine babe just drink your drink”
She obeyed and sipped at the pink liquid.
Ronnie stared at the small fat candle on the table and tried to focus her attention in on it to stop her mind wandering. She had suddenly felt unable to smile, an affliction that had actually gotten her in trouble before at school. Her year four teacher had not taken kindly to her sullen demeanour.
“You must smile more Ronnie Li like the other children do. Why do you look so sad all the time?” Her answer was always the shrug of a small child.
“Why are you so sad all the time?”
“We’ll start to look it more if you’re not, please. You look much prettier when you smile”
The child nodded and forced a smile against the struggle of her naturally down turned lips.
“That’s better. Now I’m going to be checking you every day and when I look at you and smile, I want you to smile too, okay?” Ronnie nodded. The charade would continue for 3 more days until Mrs Beacham started her new Weight Watchers diet and forgot half the new useless rules she had created in class over the past month. It was harder to concentrate when hungry. She’d be talking to children about subtraction while mentally calculating if she had eaten too many biscuits to deserve the cheesecake at lunch they served in the canteen.
She looked over to check if he had noticed her not noticing him and he hadn’t. He was on his phone, re reading the message his ex had sent him last night. She picked at the dried wax dripping that had fallen down the side of the candle and re prepared her answer to the question of what she was doing with herself these days.
“What do your parents do?” He asked, business like.
“My mother is a doctor, a GP she has her own practice in the countryside she knows all her patients and they know her and she trains the younger doctors and”
“A doctor, your mummy’s a doctor. Incredible. No wonder you’re so smart. I bet she’s pretty too, I bet that’s where you get your good looks from. Have you got a picture?”
Ronnie thought of the Christmas photo she took with her mother last year that was stored on her phone.
“Not on me no”
“Ah damn okay I’ll just have to imagine” he said cheekily. The joke was lost in translation because Ronnie wasn’t making eye contact.
“She looks like me but..short and with short hair and glasses. She wears her hair up all the time. She looks very young for her age. People say she’s younger than she is a lot. Her patients sometimes ask her age. But she’s getting a few grey hairs now, but she’s going to dye them. She said she’d get Botox if she ever needs it”
He looked into her a bit, the way a disenchanted single father would look at his estranged daughter that he only sees once a month, not knowing quite how to get through to her or what he really wants to say. He decided mentally that she was not prettier than the girl he had taken out on a date the week before. And that she might be more dull too.
“I can’t imagine you with short hair”
“I’ve never had short hair. My dad always liked it long”
“I think he had the right idea. It’s sexy as hell, long hair. What are you doing nursing that drink there. You’ve gotta catch up with me babe” he ran his fingers through his hair. She sipped again. The taste had gotten past the initial sweetness and was now down to the unsavoury sting of the alcohol remaining. Under the dim orange glow of the light he looked completely beautiful to Ronnie, if not just for a moment. She decided she would sleep with him that night-something she did not normally do. She watched him check out a waitresse’s ass as she walked by.
“I’m just going to go to the toilet” she said quietly.
“Ok babe, don’t climb out the window or anything” he laughed loudly and swiftly pulled out his phone.
Ronnie passed by lots of couples as she headed towards the glowing pink “Toilets” sign, guided towards it moth like. On her way she decided everyone at the bar must be a couple or on a date, the lust in the air was tangible. Lust and desperation. She found her way down a winding staircase to the bottom floor toilets which were next to the bar store cupboard.
“We don’t have any fucking limes left”
“Are you dumb? What are those?”
“They’re lemons you fucking retard”
“They’re limes they’re green for fucks sake”
“They’re not ripe yet!”
Ronnie went into the toilets and skirted round a tall blonde woman reapplying red lipstick to get into the cramped cubicle. She pulled her skirt down and checked her pubic hair and was met with a bit more than nothing. She thought he might be the type to dislike a bit more than nothing, maybe even be the type to say something about it. She sat down on the toilet and all the alcohol suddenly rushed to her head and the square tiles on the wall began to sway. Feeling her phone buzz in her bag, she decided not to pull it out. Not tonight. Not for the rest of the night in fact, she decided that she was done with the rest of the world tonight apart from what was right in front of her. She got back up with resolve and washed her hands, peeking at herself in the mirror she realised she looked like she was about to cry.
Approaching him from behind she glanced over his shoulder at him on his phone. He was messaging someone on the dating site they had met on. For half a second she pressed all her weight down onto her big toe ready to pivot around and go back to the toilets. Then she leant into his right ear
“What’s she saying?”
He turned his head and caught her cheek with a kiss.
“What are you saying?”
“Worst comeback I’ve ever heard” she said coldly, sitting down.
“You should buy me another drink” she said, looking him dead in the eye. He was taken aback
“You’ve gotta finish that one first”
She rolled her eyes. She drank the pink down in one gulp and said nothing. He raised his sluggish eyebrows and put down his phone, sliding it into his pocket.
“Well well well” and he clicked his fingers for the waitress. It was then she decided only the worst people in the world click for waiters to come over.
“Can we get two of your finest, strongest cocktails”
“Ladies choice” he gestured to Ronnie who shrugged.
“Surprise us” she told the waitress, smiling the most genuine smile she had all night.
“What took you so long in there Ronnie kins?”
“I was sharpening my knife”
“Thinking about life that’s a bit extreme?”
“That’s not what I…well. Is it?”
“I can’t work you out” he said to her, looking her in the eyes. She looked back into his and the blue stretched into an ocean separating two continents.
They continued small talk: about what their friends were like, what they liked to study when they were in school, what their favourite movies were. With every word exchanged it became more cemented in Ronnie’s mind that they would fuck tonight. That he would do. She ignored the buzzing handbag on her lap. The waitress returned with a blue and a green cocktail. She tried them both before he had a chance to and slid the blue one over to him.
“I’ll have this one”
He thanked the waitress.
“Poisoned this one have ya?” He grinned. She nodded
“I’m glad you’re catching on”
“I’m just gonna come out and say it..do you like me Ronnie? Because I can’t tell. I thought because I’ve had a drink I’m gonna ask. What do you think of me? Because with you I can’t..I can’t read you, I’m good at reading people usually real good. I’m a people person I am you know. One-o-those social butterflies and all that crap. But you I can’t tell. Maybe it’s because it’s dark or whatever. My friends always say to me, you haddem dead on Will. Nail on the head shit. Real precise. I nailed em” he laughed.
Ronnie’s stomach churned with drink. She wasn’t sure if he actually wanted an answer. He caught the waitress that had just left and asked her for a jug of tap water which she hurriedly brought over.
“I do…I do. I just. I don’t know. Sometimes I’m a bit…but I do”
As the drinks settled in their systems, words became flaky and their movements sloppy. The bar was growing close to closing time and the bell for last orders sounded.
“I think we’ve had enough” announced Will. Ronnie nodded and smiled at him while she started to pour them both a tap water then spilled it all over the table.
“Oh shit” she began mopping it up with tiny white napkins.
“Am I gonna have to carry you home?” He asked rhetorically, eyes down on his phone again. She looked straight at him. At how the side of his eyes creased when he smiled at whatever he was looking at on the screen. For a moment she felt an intense rush of alcohol induced happiness, her body seizing up with pleasure at the position she was in right that second. And she desperately wished she could feel that way always.
The waitress brought over a bill and she began rummaging in her bag for her purse, as Will had not looked up to notice it. When her movements caught his eye he sprung forward.
“No no no babe don’t be silly put that away”
“It’s fine I-”
“No no I insist” he told her, the most sincere he had sounded all night. She thanked him and he put down a few too many notes on purpose.
“Shall we?” He smiled at her, as he started pulling his beige wool coat on over his crisp white shirt. He held all the doors open for her as they left. The excitement was bubbling up in her stomach and she had already mentally started telling her friend Leah of her latest conquest via a long, detailled text she would send tomorrow afternoon.
“Where did you say you lived again?” He asked her, a cold wind suddenly hitting into them both.
“South west but I-” There was a chubby woman who began singing loudly in the smoking area, and a few drunk strangers joined her song.
“How are you getting home babe?”
She shrugged. Someone had started clapping to give the song a beat.
“A train” she said, tripping on nothing and stumbling forward.
“Woah woah woah there little lady. There’s no trains now, its late remember. I think you’ve had a few too many. I’ll get you a cab” he put his hands on her shoulders casually and moved her towards him. Every bone in her body wanted him to remain close. He hailed a cab going by in the street and waving his arm out commandingly. The smoking area song was in full swing and the chuckling doorman was singing along in his head.
A scruffy cab driver looked out the window at the crowd, then at the couple.
“Tell him your address babe, I’ll give him the money”
Ronnie obeyed and told him her postcode. She felt Will start to move away from her.
“Anyway, it was lovely to meet you babe do keep in touch. Text me when you’re home” he said, kissing her on both cheeks and sitting her in the cab. She suddenly realised the date was over.
“Bye Will” she said, then feebly waving through the window goodbye as the cab drove off. Will was remained stood in the same spot, pressing “call” on the contact saved as Carly in his phone.
The back of the cab felt uncomfortably vast. Her eyes were stuck down on her slender feet, her head still swaying with drink. She was drunk enough to be completely comfortably still but sober enough to have a coherent stream of unfortunate thoughts. The second she looked up again she realised where she was.
“Stop here please”
“Are you sure love?”
“Do you want half ya cash ba-”
She fumbled the door open which was a sliding door not a pulling door which she found out the hard way and stepped out onto the street. The cab drove off and the road was empty. She was cold again. She closed her eyes and fell-sat down on the curb. The soft sound of rippling water flooded her ears. She breathed in the cold nights air and noticed a singular bright star in the sky.
“I don’t know what I’m doing with myself. I tried to find an answer but I can’t. I can’t. And I hope no one ever asks me that question again. I know what I should be doing. I know what everyone wants me to be doing. I have a place at three of the best universities in the country but here I am. I told everyone I wanted to take a year off so I could go in with even better grades, just because I could. To get 4 A stars instead of 3. So that my mum has more to brag about than she already does. But I hate those stars I hate everything about them. Only getting an A in law was the best thing I ever did. I’m 19 and everyone around me seems to have it all figured out. They still treat me like a baby but like a baby that should know it all. I don’t know but sometimes…sometimes I think my dad was right”
And she got up steadily, heaving out a huge sigh and began walking to the edge of the East Side Bridge, her bag riding away in the back of the cab drivers car.
pic credit: flickr-theglowingstars