Sunday 20 February 2011

Even The Hopeless Dater Falls In Love

I've only been in love once.

I was on a dirty mini bus on the way to Fowey in Cornwall, sitting on the second row in a seat which contained a seat belt held together by selotape.  If we crash, I will die in waterproof clothing from Millets and the world will never know that I own a pair of Marc Jacobs shoes.
    I can hear the faint mumblings of the two girls next to me, but I'm not interested in hearing the universities that they're planning to go to, or the cheesy quotes they've selected for their personal statements. "I am that second mouse!" - as if no lecturer will have watched Catch Me If You Can?!
    I should probably socialise - after all, I have 3 more days of searching the coast line for sea anemones and limpets.  But for now I'm content with drinking my service station coffee and watching the countryside roll on by.  It's a proud moment for me.  This time around I only required 4 sugars instead of the usual 8.  This, and the fact that tomorrow I will be exactly 17 and 4 months, means that I must now be an adult.
    We arrive in Wadebridge, in some grotty car park with crude graffiti surrounding it.  I turn to Phil and ask him what some of the rude words mean.  I've deduced that he's definitely the best person to ask since last night his vocabulary consisted entirely of "I'm Phil Meak. Check out my 9 inch freak."
    But he just laughs. 
    "Get out of Surrey once in a while," he tells me.  "It'll do you a world of good," 
    I have.  I'm in Cornwall!

    We're only in Wadebridge because the teachers promised to buy us a drink at a pub.
    I'm perched on a corner seat drinking my Diet Coke because I'm the only one under 18.  I'm gazing at the other girls as they sip their vodka limes with ease.  The thought of it makes me feel sick, but little do I know that less than a year later I'd be barricading myself under the kitchen table finishing a whole bottle of JD while my housemates throw soggy toilet paper at the 3rd years. 
    "Are you cold?" the male teacher asks me. 
    "I'm always cold," I tell him.
    He nods with a smile and turns away.
    Lilly leans in.  Her alcoholic breath tickling my ear.  "He fancies you," she tells me.
    I might believe her if she didn't say this about every single boy/man/animal that glanced my way.
    "He does not!" I protest. 
    "He's nice to you and horrible to everyone else.  What does that tell you?"
    "That you're all horrible and I'm the only lovely one?"
    "OK.  Forget the teacher.  What about Jamie?"
    I look to the other side of the table where Jamie is sitting.  He's listening to some revolting, girl related story that Phil is telling him, and with his left hand he is pulling the zip of his jacket up and down as if along to some imaginary music.
    "Stop it!" I snap. 
    His head jerks my way and his brown eyes narrow. 
    "Don't be a spoilt, little girl," he tells me.
    As you can probably guess, we don't get on. 
    I get an urge to throw my Diet Coke at him, but I stop myself.  Once is enough.

    "Lilly wants this beaker filled with water," I grunt at Jamie as I shove the scratched, plastic container towards him. 
    He puts down his folder on the sandy shore and looks at me.  "Where am I supposed to get water from?"
    "The river," I say, indicating to the glistening mass of water in the distance. 
    "Firstly," he snatches the beaker from my hand, "That's the sea, and secondly, why can't you do it?"
    I'm about to say it's because I'm a girl, but realise that it's not really a winning argument. 
    "Just go and fill it up in the river," I say, trying to walk away.  The wind whistles loudly in my ears and brutally carries sand in my direction.  I rub my eyelids when the granules reach my eyes. 
    "It's THE SEA!" Jamie yells.
    I'm not in the mood for this.  I turn to see if either of the teachers are nearby but I can just about make one of them out on the other side of the sand mound. 
    "It's an estuary!  Therefore, it's a river!" I practically scream.  He's been a grating, little annoyance the entire trip and I cannot stand it any longer.  "I'll just do it myself!" I say, grabbing the beaker from his clutch and furiously making my way towards the rippling water. 
    "Oh, come back.  It's a lot further than it looks," he says, his sandy footsteps following mine. 
    But I'm far too stubborn for my own good and carry on.  My legs have never moved this fast, and yet my destination is not getting any closer. 
    "Stop," Jamie is yelling after me. 
    I do stop.
    I turn around and throw the beaker.
    It hits his shoulder before rolling onto the sand, swaying to and fro in the breeze.
    "You are such a stupid, little girl," he tells me.  But I stand there motionless.  I feel too angry to argue back.  "Get over your stubbornness!"  He starts moving closer.  My feet stay rooted on the spot.  "You'd be a lot bloody happier if you just listened once in a while,"
    "I don't like you," I say calmly.
    But Jamie says nothing.  He's standing a few inches away looking down at me, catching his breath from the screaming.  He moves a little closer.
    It's odd - I've never noticed that his hair has golden shades to it in the sunshine.  Nor have I noticed that his nose is dotted with light freckles.
    His lips move in closer as if searching for mine.
    Please don't kiss me, I think.  I don't deal well with being kissed. 
    But his lips trace my jaw line, then my cheek, until finally resting on my forehead.  He kisses me.  My entire thought process has escaped me.  All I know is that my hands are cold and there may be some algae in my hair.
    "Well, that's really a bloody shame, isn't it," he declares, and walks away.

I watch his silhouette as it fades in the distance and think of what just happened.  My feet move forward a little.  This is odd.  I've never been this tongue-tied before.  Perhaps I should check for concussion.
How many fingers am I holding up?
What day is it?
What can you tell me about yourself?
Hi, I'm Ella Ivey.  Tomorrow I will be 17 and 4 months, and today, I fell in love.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Theory of The Second Best

I'm running through Chiswick like a crazy person.  It's raining quite heavily, and I only finished work half an hour ago.  It's been a long day, and after all the stress and complications at the office, all I want to do is head straight home and fall asleep in my cosy bed. 
    But that's not what's happening. 
    A couple of weeks ago I met James through a work event.  We hit it off straight away - he was charming, hilarious and incredibly charismatic.  I remember looking at him from across the room when he'd be talking to someone else, and hoping with utter desperation that he would glance my way.  Just a little look.  That was all I needed. 
    Like a coy, teenage girl, I'd smile politely when our eyes met, trying my very hardest not to show in my expression the excited cartwheels my heart was doing. 
    "Perhaps we could meet up for a drink sometime?" he said to me just before he left.
    And that was it.  I was lost.

    All panic completely escaped me as soon as I saw James sitting at the bar.  He was leaning against the table, wearing a tasteful Armani suit.  The tie had clearly been discarded before he arrived, and the top button of his shirt was undone.  With his free hand clutching his iPhone he runs his thumb up and down the screen.  'Unlikely he's playing Angry Birds,' I thought to myself. 
    As if he knew I was standing at the doorway admiring him from afar, James looks up, his brown eyes melting into deep chocolate pools.  He waves me over, throwing me a dashing smile.  All I can think is 'Marry me'.  It takes some real self control not to mention this to him. 
    "Good day at work?" he asks me as I sit at the table.  It's really the wrong question to ask because it means all I'll be doing is ranting about how my boss doesn't understand me, and how I didn't go to university to sit around doing admin work in the hope that one day I'll be promoted to the role I actually want. 
    "Yes, it was actually," I lie. 
    But it's as if he's seen straight through me.  With a raised eyebrow he looks at me intently and says, "Let me get you a drink.  I think you need it,"

    Two drinks later and I'm still talking about my day at work.  In my head I understand fully that I'm overdoing it and perhaps I should give his eardrums a little bit of a break, but the words keep rolling out as if my mouth has been barricading them for far too long.  What's more is that James' eyes are glued to the bar door.
    "I'm so sorry," I tell him.
    "What for?" his hand clasps mine on the table.  My body tingles at his touch.
    "For going on and on about work.  I'm sure you've got your own stuff to worry about.  You don't need a silly girl telling you how much she despises her boss,"
    James laughs and squeezes my hand.
    "We've all been there," he tells me.  "My first job after uni was as an assistant to the most selfish man in the world.  He used to make me lie to his girlfriend while he'd be on a romantic weekend away with some other woman,"
    "Wow," I drink my colourful cocktail. 
    "Yes, so I completely understand,"
    Lying to your boss' girlfriend about his weekend habits is a lot worse than your boss shouting at you because you stapled the presentation sheets the wrong way round.  I almost feel like I should make up a ludicrous story to trump his. 
      "Well, my boss threw a cup of hot coffee at me and it burnt my hand," I say. 
    James looks at me puzzled.  Umm, perhaps I shouldn't have said that obvious lie.  What if he goes and complains to the CEO?  Apparently, they are close friends.
    But he just raises an eyebrow and with a lopsided smile asks, "Now, Miss Ivey, is that actually true?"
    "Well, no.  But she did accidentally drop her cappuccino and a bit of froth landed on my shoe,"
    "Nice try, young lady.  But I still win,"

    We've been at this bar now for almost two hours.  We have definitely outstayed our welcome, but James doesn't seem eager to leave anytime soon.  I keep hinting that I'm hungry (because I really want to go home), but it seems that he's oblivious.  Perhaps I need to work on my hinting skills.
    He's asking me a lot of questions, but I'm getting bored of listening to my own voice, bored of this highly uncomfortable seat, and bored of these disgustingly sweet drinks. 
    And yet, I'm still talking.  I'm now telling him about my Paris holiday of '07 and a few minutes ago he learnt all about my secondary school teachers.  Even my best friend doesn't know as much about me as James has learnt these last couple of hours. 
    "Which hotel did you-"  He stopped talking abruptly and stares at the bar door like he's seen a ghost. 
    I turn around to see what has caught his attention, but all I see are three women enter the bar.  Yes, they're pretty, but not pretty enough to make a man forget what he's saying mid-sentence. 
    "Are you alright there?" I ask James, half mocking him.
    "Umm, yes," he says, not turning to look at me. 
    Wonderful.  This is just what I need - my date to be checking out other girls.
    "It's just that..." his brown eyes dart my way really quickly before they flicker back to the tanned trio.  "That's my ex," he confesses. 
    I almost spill my sugary drink at the shock of it (although it wouldn't be a great loss), and for a good few seconds I appear to be tongue-tied. 
    "Oh," is all I manage.
    I turn around to glance at the ladies again.  The plain Janes that I saw a minute ago seem to have turned into Greek Goddesses and I can't help but scrutinise their appearance.  All I want to know is which one of these is James' girlfriend, and how the hell do I casually excuse myself really quickly in order to beatify myself in the bathroom.
    "She's always here," he tells me as I furiously dig into my bag for a lipstick.  "In fact, she's always here at this time,"
    Where's that bloody lipstick!
    "It would be weird if I invited her over," he says, taking a huge gulp of his drink.
    I finally find my make-up bag and with a loud thud it lands on the table. 
    "What are you doing?" he asks, analysing my rushed behaviour as if I'm insane. 
    "Just re-applying my make-up.  I didn't have a chance to do it when I left work," but as I look up from the mirror, James' interest in me has dwindled, and his focus has gone back to his ex. 
    "Her name is Bee," he mentions softly like he's reading a fairy tale to a child. 
    I pretend I'm not bothered and continue coating my lashes with mascara. 
    "We only broke up a couple of months ago,"
    Just keep applying the mascara, I tell myself. 
    "We lived together for five years,"
    Focus.  Mascara wand to eyelashes.
    "We were engaged,"
    Oh fuck!  I've mascarad my cheek!
    "She really broke my heart when she walked out on me,"
    Wipe mascara off cheek.  Keep applying to eyelashes.
    "We had a cat,"
    Eyes are starting to look a little bit odd now.
    "She just left me.  Out of the blue,"
    I've gained a whole kilogram from this mascara. 
    "Oh, she's seen me.  She's coming over,"
    I look like someone has stuck camel's eyelashes to my eyelids.

    "Oh, hello.  I didn't see you there," James rises from his seat and kisses his ex on the cheek.
    "Oh per-lease!" the Greek Goddess mocks.  "You know I'm always here when I finish work,"
    I shift uncomfortably in my seat and hope this blonde lady leaves before she notices me.
    "Aren't you going to introduce me?" Bee asks, smiling broadly at me.  She's too beautiful.  I can't compete.
    "I'm Ella," I say before James gets the chance.  I have a horrid feeling he's completely forgotten my name. 
    "Bee," she says.  "So do you two work together?"
    "No.  Ella works for one of the advertising agencies we've hired," He doesn't look at me once as he says this.  "So, what about you, Bee?  How's work going?"
    "Same old.  Shall I pull up a chair and join you?"
    "Yes," James rises from his seat and drags another chair over. 
    Bee sits down, flicking her honey curls over her shoulders so that they swirl down her back.  She's now describing her day in much more detail than I was.  I really didn't think that was possible.  This conversation is for the two of them - I have been forgotten.  I might as well drop £50 on the table and exit discreetly.
    "You're amazing," James tells Bee.  "You'll turn this around,"
    My heart sinks a little.
    "You've always been a sweetie," she smiles, her elegant hand stroking his cheek.  He grabs it and drops a single kiss on it.  Gazing into her eyes, James leans in closer.
    They're having a moment.
    They're having a bloody moment and I have no idea where to look.
    It felt like I was having an outer body experience - as if I was on the periphery of this particular situation but no one had a clue of my presence.  A spare part in my own date.  Rejection isn't nice in its simplest of invitations, let alone with this ten-course serving of it. 
    "I should go,"
    Oh, now he bloody notices me!!
    "I'm tired," I tell him, "enjoy the rest of your evening,"
    "Look, I'm-" James stands up and tries to follow me to the door.
    "It's fine," I tell him with a smile, and walk out of there as fast as high heeled shoes permit.    
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