"How about I buy you dinner tonight?"
There was a fair bit of noise coming from the three other people at the table and she had to reluctantly repeat the question as he cupped his ear and leaned forward. She obviously did not intend to be heard by the others at the table and so he cooperated by giving a her an enthusiastic smile and an affirmative nod. A couple of hours in the hot afternoon sun had added a shade or two of colour to his face.
She was secretly relieved. It had taken courage to ask him, especially as she had only known him for two hours. He seemed like good company. She watched his inhibitions fading as another round of beers arrived at the table.
It was her last day in Surrey. Tomorrow she was on an early flight back to Sydney and she was buggered if she felt like spending the last night of her UK trip dining alone. So it had to be an early dinner, she told him; she intended getting 6 or 7 hours sleep. Her reports were due on the chairman’s desk in Sydney by Tuesday morning. She had not used her expense account much on this trip and the country pub where they were enjoying the English summer sunshine had a reasonable restaurant just a few yards away at the end of the courtyard. She had a crappy room upstairs, just up there, overlooking where they were sitting.
“So 7 o’clock then; I’ll see you in the restaurant”.
"Done deal", he said, and they chatted easily for a while. She then told him about her trip, including the part about her expense account so he would not be embarrassed by her paying for his meal. She felt a sense of achievement at having made this mini-date with him. She had not asked a guy out in this way before and was agreeably surprised at herself. He seemed a bit of a lad (especially after his third beer) but she was bored shitless on trips like this and she looked forward to breaking the monotony with a new friend.
For his part he was mildly chuffed. The afternoon had started out pretty well when he decided to go past the pub after finishing his shift at the sports shop where he worked every Saturday until 3pm. Brad and Terry were there, sitting in the sun at one of those courtyard benches with Terry's girlfriend. With them was this Australian girl in a white floral dress. He had no idea how they had linked up with her, but she was from Sydney and pretty friendly.
He had naturally appraised her (as you do) whenever she looked away in conversation with the others and he had thought she looked nice – actually quite pretty - although it struck him that she wore a bit more makeup than he generally liked. Perhaps to hide a less than perfect skin? Who was he to judge when he was not entirely free of pock marks himself. Her hands looked like she used a lot of cream on them and her nails were perfectly manicured and painted. Not exactly what he liked either; he favoured neatly trimmed bare nails on strong capable looking fingers. Not sure why. Maybe he preferred sportier girls. Her hair was well cut and very clean. She wore good perfume.
She had another sip of her half-lager and then told him she was off to her room upstairs. She needed to finish a report and do some packing. It was just after five pm. She would see him at seven. He nodded.
As she walked away from the table, he decided she was just a bit prissy. But she had a good body, no flab. He tightened up his abs to minimise his recently burgeoning beer belly. His best guess was that they were the same age. Not that it mattered. He was twenty nine.
Twenty nine and his appointment book was not exactly bulging. There was nothing coming up on his social calendar except Alex’s bachelor party. And Alex was a bit of a twat. He was thinking of getting out of Alex’s bachelor party.
The afternoon wore on. Brad’s sister Kate came and joined them at the table, hot and sweaty. She had just finished a 10 Km fun run and plonked herself down, knackered. He fancied Kate a bit. But with her being Brad’s sister, any flirtation was kept to a minimum. She was only going to stay for one, but ended up staying for a couple more. The banter ebbed and flowed, enlivened as always by the arrival of someone of the opposite sex. The table was littered with the usual stuff. Cell phones, lighters and cigarette packs, all in danger of getting beer logged and having to be moved to drier ground on the table. The waiter delivered a plate of hot chips with tomato sauce but had given up on tidying the table. The comments and laughter began to dry up and in an effort to re-ignite the lagging conversation, a cry went up for one final round. No one objected.
Eventually he felt the need for a pee. The men’s public toilet was in the foyer and on Saturdays like this it was a cesspit. He had long ago learned to slip through to the back of the restaurant where there was another men’s loo which was cleaner and quieter. He crossed the courtyard and entered the he cool dark interior of the restaurant feeling the old familiar alcohol induced rush and sway. Captain Fantastic. He gave the pretty head waitress his best raised eyebrow smile as he headed now more urgently through the full restaurant towards the men’s toilet.
He had already passed her when he recognised the white floral dress and realised that she was sitting there, at a table on her own. His momentum carried him forward into the men's room where winced as he shut the toilet door behind him, pulling out his cell phone to check the time.
Christ! Eight o’clock.
With a shudder he realised she would have seen him as walked past her table. In the split second as he passed he had seen she was finishing a plate of pasta and her wine glass was almost empty. He was frozen with indecision and humiliation but the need to pee took precedence so he stood at the urinal and drained the byproduct of an afternoon's worth of beer.
He looked around him as if searching for an escape route. There was none.
He went to the basin, looked at his blotchy beer reddened face in the mirror and formed the words with his mouth:
He turned to door. He thought, There is no other way to deal with this. Walk straight to her table. Come clean. Apologise..
But when he opened the door and looked toward her table, he found there was no need.
She was gone.