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Blind Date

By David Gardiner

This story may be reproduced in whole or in part for any non-commercial purpose provided that authorship is acknowledged and credited.
The copyright remains the property of the author

When Lisa had first arrived at the shopping centre, fifteen minutes early, her worst fear had been that he was going to stand her up. She knew that it would hurt if this happened, it would make her feel ridiculous... and pathetic.... and.... cheap, she had thought. Like the kind of girl who has to throw herself at a man, who has to use classified advertisements, who doesn't get asked out. But of course that was the kind of girl she was, wasn't it?

The reason that she had chosen somewhere so public and so ordinary, a wooden bench by a fountain in the foyer of a City Centre shopping arcade, was in case this might happen. If she had had to sit by herself in a restaurant or a bar, and he hadn't turned up, all those eyes would have been watching her, judging her. But here - why here she could sit as long as she wished, or simply stand up and walk away. Nobody would pay the slightest attention. She could be waiting for a girl friend, or just resting her feet. She felt almost.... invisible.

Now that she had been there for a while, and the actual agreed time for the meeting was drawing near, she began to worry that he would show up. She was by no means at ease with herself about what she was doing. Rationally she knew that it was a very sensible and honest thing to do: to take control of her own life and go out and find somebody, to simply say what she wanted and see if anybody was willing to offer it. But in her heart of hearts she felt a kind of shame. She was beginning to wish that the whole thing was over and done with. and she was on her way home to her own little room and her own comfortable, single bed.

An even more appalling thought had occurred to her. What if he came to have a sneak preview before committing himself? What if he was one of these men standing around, reading their newspapers, searching for their credit-cards, rearranging the shopping in their carrier-bags, waiting for wives and girlfriends to return from the shops or the toilets or who-knows-where....? He could easily pretend to be passing the bench and take a little peek. Then if he didn't like what he saw he could walk on... she would never know. It was horrible. Maybe at this very moment she was on display, like a cow at a cattle-market, being assessed, weighed-up, considered as a worthwhile prospect... very likely being rejected.

She looked at her watch. Two minutes to go. No, more like one-and-a-half. She wondered if the device was really as accurate as that. Probably not. The moment might have come and gone already, or it might be three or even five minutes into the future....

She stopped herself. This wouldn't do. She was becoming paranoid. She must calm down and try to relax, try to approach the situation like an adult. It was only a first meeting with someone who had sounded perfectly all right on the phone. She hadn't been nervous then. He had been easy to talk to. What was she worried about? She was being silly. She made a deliberate effort to make her breathing slower and deeper, and to stop fidgeting with her handbag. That's better, she told herself. That's much better.

"Lisa?" The voice came from behind her, almost next to her ear, and it made her start. "Lisa Cooper?"

It was a kindly voice, and when she looked around it was a kindly face that met her gaze.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have sneaked-up behind you like that."

"No, not at all, it was silly of me... my mind was miles away..."

As she spoke he made his way around to the front of the bench and smiled down at her. She realised that her heart was racing slightly now. He was a lot better looking than she had imagined him! Taller, thinner, younger, better dressed... better in every imaginable way! Now she began to worry that he wouldn't like her... Stop it, she commanded herself. This is ridiculous.

"Sam Levin" he introduced himself, although of course she already knew his name, "May I join you?"

"Oh yes! Of course. Please do."

Now I'm sounding too keen, she said to herself. Oh, why can't I just relax and be natural?

For a brief moment, neither of them spoke. They were looking at each other eagerly, with barely concealed fascination, but trying to do it tastefully, without seeming to stare.

"Am I... as you expected?" he asked with a broad smile.

She was flustered by the question. If she told the truth it would sound too forward... "Yes," she replied hesitantly, "pretty much. What about me?"

"Better in every way. Younger, more attractive, more vivacious... a bit daunting, to be honest. You're better than I deserve."

She laughed. "Oh, please! We've only just met... you're embarrassing me!"

"Sorry. I take it back. You're fat and ugly."

She laughed again. He was charming. So charming. And so natural! Why couldn't she be natural like that? "I... I've never done this before, you know," she said hesitantly, then instantly regretted having said it. It sounded such a cliché, and he probably wouldn't believe her anyway, and besides - what did it matter to anybody whether or not she had done it before? It only mattered if she was ashamed.

"I have," he replied, breaking her train of thought, "but nothing ever came of it. They really were fat and ugly. No, that's unkind. They just weren't for me. I told them so. I was quite open about it. I mean, the chemistry is either there or it isn't, don't you think?

"So... you can decide as quickly as that? After one meeting?"

He considered the question. "I think I come to decisions quite quickly about most things. Whether or not they are always good decisions is another matter."

She paused. "And... you've already decided about me, have you?"

"I've decided that you're beautiful, charming, desirable... but of course as you say I don't really know you yet. You might be a mass-murderer or a raging Neo-Nazi. But I would be willing to compromise on things like that." She laughed a little too loudly, then the embarrassment flooded back.

"Why don't we go somewhere and eat?" he suggested with a smile that would have made her knees buckle if she had been standing up, "Somewhere quiet, where we can talk?"

He offered a hand like a knight in a fairy-tale, and she stood up and accompanied him out towards the car-park while he held her elbow, like Prince Charming leading Cinderella on to the dance floor.

oo O oo

Lisa arrived home a little earlier than she would have predicted, poured a glass of plain water at the wash-hand-basin and sat on the edge of her bed to drink it. Her head was swimming with a strange and unfamiliar mixture of emotions. She would not have been able to put names to all of them if she had tried, but among them were elation, excitement, anxiety, and a deep, painful vein of sadness and self-pity.

She sat for some minutes, quite motionless, then she noticed that her bedside telephone answering machine had a little flashing red light, indicating that someone had phoned and left a message while she had been out. She played the tape.

"Hello, Lisa? It's Yvonne. Look, sweetheart, I don't care how late you get in, I want you to phone me straight away and tell me how you got on with that man! Even if it's tomorrow morning!" She giggled suggestively. "I mean it. Don't let me down now! Bye."

Automatically, she lifted the phone and touched the "memory" button to dial Yvonne.

"Hello, Yvonne... Yes, I know, it is quite early. Well, no, nothing happened. It was.... quite incredible, really. He was tall, and very handsome... and he had lovely teeth... and I really liked him. Yes. He was a perfect gentleman... Yes, I know it sounds great.... It's just that...." she found herself choking with tears, "it wasn't real, Yvonne. Do you know what I mean? I mean, he was just being nice to me. He was sorry for me. I could sense it. He's way out of my class, Yvonne. Honestly. Like a film star. I've never spoken to anybody as.... as perfect as that. He tried to make me feel okay, but it was all silly nonsense. He almost told me he loved me as soon as we met! It was over the top, Yvonne. It was just embarrassing. I don't know why I let him go on with it. Why I didn't just go home.... I suppose I was flattered. I suppose I wanted to believe it. But it was no good. I couldn't. No, I just said: You've got my number, give me a call. But I know he won't. Oh, Yvonne, I feel so stupid !" Finally she could hold back the tears no longer.

oo O oo

Sam didn't go straight home. He parked his car in the usual place outside his house, then went for a long walk across the flat stretch of parkland that bounded his back garden. He sat on a bench by the side of the lake and watched the play of the moonlight and the distant streetlights on the water's surface.

He felt deflated. To have come so close, and to have failed. Why didn't she like him at least a little when he was so bowled-over by her? The only girl since Trudy who had actually made his heart leap when he laid eyes on her, who had brought the sweat to the palms of his hands, who had left him tongue-tied. That must have been it. She must have thought him a total fool, babbling with all that nonsense about how wonderful she was when they'd only just met. It was a ridiculous way to behave. She must have been laughing at him inside. She must have felt something close to contempt. Somebody as beautiful as that already knows she's beautiful. She doesn't need a half-witted totally ordinary person like himself to go on and on about it. It must have been such a let-down for her when she saw what he really looked like. She was so careful to hide it too, to protect his feelings. She must be such a lovely person, to humour him like that.

He took the little piece of paper containing her phone number out of his pocket and looked down at it, held it against his chest for a moment like a talisman, cupped it between his two hands.

He was going to have to be a little bit more realistic, he told himself. Lower his sights a little. Stop dreaming impossible dreams.

"Ugly ducklings shouldn't go bothering swans," he announced to any resting water-fowl that might be within earshot. Then he crumpled-up the piece of paper, flicked it neatly into the waste-paper bin beside him, and started back towards the house.