I’d known of him for maybe 18 months. He’d been on my university campus as an associate lecturer, read me in the student newspaper, and visited my website. He added me on Facebook, and I suppose it started how all modern stranger-to-friends-to-maybe-more stories start: he clicked ‘like’, I clicked ‘share’; comments were tentatively made, and eventually private messages exchanged.
As I moved to London, where he already lived, by chance, he wrote to me.
“Where will you be living?” he said.
“East London,” I replied.
“No way – that’s where I am,” he said.
“I’ll be right by Shoreditch,” I replied.
Turns out, he was four minutes from my house, door to door.
We met for a drink. I was scared, so the first time he asked I said I was busy. Then he asked again – you know, casual like.
“Shall I show you the local?” he said.
“I’ve got time for a quick one,” I said (wankily).
He didn’t take me to the local; we went to the nicer place near where they do the flower market. I had half a Guinness. He made me laugh, but when he asked if I wanted another I said I had to go. I could’ve stayed if I wanted to, but I’d been prepared to find him odd, strange, deformed, just not for me – I was discombobulated to find out that he was so many of the things I didn’t know I was looking for. That wasn’t part of the plan. I was supposed to satiate my curiosity and then never see him again. That was the plan.
Nobody says “I just want a fella who like, reads something I wrote somewhere, and tracks me down to tell me they want to take my brain out for a drink” and then actually has a man track her down through something she wrote and ask to take her out for a drink.
He wasn’t supposed to actually be… normal.
I knew I was interested in him because the next time he suggested we meet up I did my eyeliner a bit flicky, and I only ever do that when I want to make my eyes look bigger as I’m silently asking to be kissed.
We had one drink, and then another. We decided to head off to the next pub, where the talking didn’t really stop, and maybe a little more drink was had, and eventually we ended up at a bar, knees touching, fingertips lightly brushing, conversation going in that nonsensical direction it does when finishing the bottom of the glass becomes an exercise in speeding up the inevitable. When he asked if he could take me to dinner later that week and I said yes, we held eye contact a little longer than strictly necessary.
We left it to find it raining.
He held the umbrella and I held his hand.
He stopped walking, and I made an awkward joke. He playfully shoved me out into the rain. I pretended to be outraged. He pulled me back into the sanctuary of the brolly, closer than before. Then it fell away, and he put his face to mine as we both got wet.
But then he invited me to his house for coffee.
I said no. Not tonight. Too soon.
I thought about him when I woke up. And I thought about him all the next day – and a little bit on the day after that, too. And by the day after that I knew I couldn’t ever see him again, because it was too much, already. He was throwing my off balance, and what about career and my friends and my parents and no. I can’t. I wasn’t expecting any of this.
So I told him so. I said, “I should’ve said this before, but I’ve no intention of dating anybody. I’m sorry. Let’s stop this before it starts.”
I thought he’d be mad; that he’d think I’d deliberately wasted his time. I didn’t think he’d respond. He did. It was kind.
It made me wonder if I’d made a mistake.