Is that him?
Fiona eyes the entering patrons suspiciously, idly peeling at the loose corner of her phone’s screen protector. A lanky ginger with thick glasses and prominent teeth ogles her as he strolls from the door to the bar.
Oh, please no!
Katie has informed her to look out for a red scarf, but it’s unseasonably warm outside. Most are not even wearing jackets.
Robert surveys the room from the door. He’s been informed, by Katie, of course, to look out for the girl with the rose brooch. Seeing her, he walks over, beaming.
Kind face, good physique… not bad.
*She’s cute. Very cute.*
“Fiona, right?” he asks.
She nods in response. “Robert… Or do you prefer Rob?”
*I hate Rob.*
“Rob is fine,” he says with a smile.
Their bodies meet in an awkward combination of three greetings.
“Sorry. Hi,” Fiona says with a smile, noting for the first time that the top of her head only just reaches Rob’s chin. She has to crane her head upwards to look him in the eye.
“Hi,” he replies, stepping back from her. He motions to the bar with a thumb. “I’ll get the drinks in. What are you having?”
Wine… beer… Absinthe… Dammit, Fi, this is not a hard question!
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” she says, before enthusiastically blurting out as he walks away “I’m easy!”
Really? I’m easy? That’s what you’re going with!
Rob places the order at the bar and looks back at his blind date. She’s now seated in a booth and preoccupied with her phone.
*Okay, she’s pretty, charming. Deep breath, buddy. You got this!*
Rob returns to the table with two bottles of cider, placing one in front of her and sliding into the booth opposite.
“Thanks,” she says.
They each take a sip.
“Sorry. You first,” Fiona says, leaning back.
“Sorry. I was saying Katie mentioned you’re into hiking.”
“Into”? We’ve been like twice!
“Yeah,” Fiona nods slowly, “I do love a hike. How about you?”
“Oh yeah. Don’t get into the wilderness as often as I’d like, though.”
“Always the way.”
Fiona notices Rob peeling at the label on his cider bottle.
Guess we’ve got something in common.
“What were you gonna say?”
“Oh, I was gonna ask how you know our mutual friend.”
“Katie? Katie and I used to work together,” Rob crosses his arms and leans across the table. “Vinton. Inc. Data entry. Terribly exciting.”
*Don’t get into work stuff. Data entry impresses no one.*
“Sounds fascinating,” Fiona replies.
Please don’t be one of those “work story” guys!
“Well, that data won’t enter itself!”
There’s an awkward pause as Fiona takes a prolonged sip.
*You’re an idiot.*
“So how about you? How do you know Katie?”
“We went to school together. Barton High.”
*Never heard of it.*
“Good school,” Rob nods.
No, it’s not.
“We had some good times. Strange our paths haven’t crossed before, though.”
“Must be fate, conspiring against us.”
Fiona takes a long swig of her drink. She notices Rob’s not touched his much.
“So, what is it you do?” he asks, trying to lock eyes with hers.
Fiona averts her gaze, looking around the room. “I’m a… uh… I’m a teacher.”
“Cool, what subject?”
“English. High school.”
*Never had teachers that look like her.*
“Must be very rewarding.”
Fiona turns her attention back to the table. “It can be.”
…Or so I’m told…
They make small talk about their jobs, hobbies, memories of Katie and other acquaintances they may have in common. Fiona insists on buying the second round, despite Rob’s protests. When she returns to the table they smile awkwardly at each other.
I mean, he’s not bad looking. He’s not that interesting, but he’d be decent company for a night or two…
*She’s so cool. And so pretty. Those eyes, that smile…*
“You’re really pretty!” Rob blurts out.
Fiona almost chokes on her drink. She plonks it down firmly as she holds the back of her hand to her mouth, wiping away the dregs of the escaped beverage.
“Sorry. That sounded less creepy in my head. What I mean to say was, well, I’m having a good time with you.”
“That’s sweet of you.”
*…and you’re having a good time too?*
Their attention is diverted by a man at the bar. He’s sitting, picking up his phone, checking it and replacing it face down on the sodden mahogany with religious repetition. He’s wearing a suit and has a large holdall at his feet. Fiona watches him with interest. Robert scrambles for something to say.
“What do you think his deal is?” Fiona asks, nodding at the other man.
“He’s awaiting ransom instructions. The bag’s full of unmarked, non-sequential dollar bills.”
*Way to keep it light, genius!*
Fiona laughs. “Well that was dark. Who’s being held hostage?”
“The President,” Robert whispers.
“Of the United States?” she whispers back.
Rob nods. Fiona lets out a monosyllabic laugh.
“And they sent one guy with one holdall to a bar in Brixton to get him back. Makes sense,” she replies jovially.
“Well, what do you think?”
Fiona surveys the man some more. “He’s hiring an assassin to eliminate his brother, who ran off with his wife, who is pregnant with his son.”
“Right. And mine was dark.”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Fiona replies, running a finger idly around the rim of her empty bottle. “The assassin is his other, estranged, brother.”
“Does he know?”
“Noooo… That’s the twist!”
They share in a moment of private amusement, before returning to their conversation.
Maybe we share a twisted sense of humour…
Suddenly, during a shared laugh, Robert feels something brush against his leg.
*Did she mean to do that?*
Did he feel that?
Neither of them acknowledges the moment. Their conversation continues unabated through the duration of two more rounds of drinks. At the bar, a woman approaches the phone man and hugs him, taking a seat beside him and delving into conversation, the man occasionally glancing at his phone.
Fiona clears her throat. “So real talk time- if you had a superpower, what would it be?”
*Don’t pretend you’ve not thought about this at length.*
“Uhh… the ability to stop time. I guess.”
“Really. Stop time.”
“What about you?”
“What’s wrong with flight? Being able to go anywhere you wanted!”
“You’d be cold. You know, up there.”
“But I wouldn’t get cold. It’s part of the power.”
“That’s a whole other power!”
Thank goodness he didn’t say ‘a whole ‘nother’.
“So, what, if I want to fly, I need, what, super wind resistance as well?”
“Gosh, imagine having super wind resistance as your only power!”
“Useful in a hurricane.”
“Still very niche.”
Over at the bar, the woman stands up abruptly, grabs the phone from the man’s hand, looks at it, then picks up her drink and hurls the entire thing in his face. It is a full pint glass. He is soaked. She storms out, as he raises his arms and looks around the bar, seeking allies to his lost cause. Fiona, grinning, leans halfway across the table, looking at the lone man at the bar and whispering conspiratorially. “What do you think happened?”
Robert leans across the table too, regarding the man now dabbing at his soaked shirt with a fistful of napkins. “He was checking his phone a lot. Maybe she was his wife and he’s been messaging someone he shouldn’t have.”
“I wish we could find out.”
“See if I could stop time, I could wander over there and…”
He turns back to Fiona, as she does to him, for the first time realising how close their faces are.
Fiona sits back with an amused expression. “While I’m frozen!”
Robert retreats to the back of his seat. “No, you’re not frozen!”
Fiona crosses her arms. “So we’re the only two people in this joint who can move, and rather than say, grabbing a nice bottle of something expensive from behind the bar or checking matey’s phone to see who messaged him, you’re using your power to make out with the only other person not affected?”
*Keep on diggin’.*
“Well I guess I am.”
Okay, I think we like him.
Fiona leans forward again, resting her arms on the table. “You think anyone here would care if the young couple in the booth were kissing?”
Fiona smiles and licks her lips.
Just do it, you dolt.
*Just do it, you dolt.*
For a moment it feels like time has, indeed, frozen. Robert and Fiona suddenly exist in a bubble. Nervously, Robert leans back across the table, for the first time realising just how much wider it is that he thought. He sees his target, seemingly so far away.
*If you’re wrong about this…*
He’s so into you.
Robert does not need to lean much further, as Fiona make up the space between them, pressing her lips to his. It lasts only a moment before she’s sitting back, regarding him with an easy smile. A barrier broken, Robert seems more at ease. He rises to get another round of drinks. A little tipsy, he stops by the beer-soaked man still at the bar and says something to him.
He returns to the table, beverages in hand, this time occupying the seat beside his date.
“Cheers,” Fiona raises her bottle to his with a vitreous clink. “So what did he say?”
“He said the woman was an assassin he hired to kill the brother who stole his wife. She stormed out when she found out he’d hired a second one too.”
Fiona laughs. “I was right!”
“I concede to your people-watching prowess.”
“But what did he actually say?”
“He told me to go duck myself,” he pauses. “I may have misheard.”
*She seems to like me…*
Fiona looks down at her drink. Robert dares to edge closer to her, their legs touching. As she looks back up at him, he raises a hand and brushes an errant hair from her face. He leans in again, feeling her body respond in kind, her chest pressing against the side of his as their lips meet once more. He slides his hand to the back of her head as he dares press his tongue to her cider-sweetened lips. She parts them and allows him entry, before her own dances with his, their eyes closed, bodies pressing closer together. Neither can say how long they are locked in their embrace, but when they part the sodden man from the bar has left, the empty bottles before them have been cleared.
“So, listen, would you like to go hiking this weekend?” Robert asks.
“No thank you,” Fiona replies, to his dismay. She adds, “I hate hiking.”
They share a laugh at their mutual deception.
“Okay, Fi. What are your thoughts on laying in bed watching shitty movies?”
“Your bed or mine?”
“Mine’s a king.”
“Mine’s right around the corner.”
Rob leaps up with exaggerated excitement. “Well what are we waiting for!”
Is this a bad idea?
*Is this a good idea?*
He reaches out to Fiona, who takes his hand and slides out of the booth. They leave the bar, drinks unfinished, giggling as they weave through the patrons smoking in the street. Sure enough, Fiona’s place is a little way down the next street.
“You picked a convenient location,” Rob says to the girl wrapped around his arm.
Fiona shrugged. “It’s so if things go badly, I can be in my jammies drinking wine in mere minutes.”
At the door, Robert watches as she fumbles with the keys. “So I take it things have not gone badly?”
Fiona turns to look at him as the door swings open. “I’ll still be drinking wine, just sans the jammies.”
She disappears into the darkness of the hall. Robert races after her, quietly closing the door behind him.