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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