Day Four of the Season of Love continues with a blind date and low expectations! Aren't they always?
Red Dress © Billy London
Patrick despised his friends. Truthfully, they were interfering bastards. All of them making him feel like some ageing, desperate, eternal bachelor who would die alone, or most likely propped up on a bar trying to flirt with eighteen year old girls; his dentures falling out of his mouth. Nice. Why he was still friends with any of them, he had no idea. Habit, he supposed. Fine. He’d suffer this blind date on the most overpriced, overly sensitive, commercialised clap trap of a day to see what bird was so special his friends thought to keep her out of his way for the four years they’d known her.
The six of them were having an informal dinner, like a joint Valentine’s Day dinner. He knew whose idea this was. Bryan’s long term “partner”. Sodding Bryan. Habit. He’d known him for a thousand years, from playing rugby together. Polly’s determination came from Bryan’s own stupidity. He’d told the woman he shared his home, his fridge (greedy dick), his whole life with, that he’d only get married when Patrick was in a stable relationship. And fuck if Polly didn’t want to be married. Three years ago married.
Hard faced Polly opened the door to him, her face instantly set into a manic grin. “Hello IPad. Don’t you look smart?”
Patrick smiled and handed her the bottle of Moët. “Hi Pol. Alright?”
“Marvellous. Everything’s ready we’re just waiting on your late arse.”
“What did you make?” He asked genially. “Beans on toast?”
Polly’s smile turned into a grimace. “Just get in here.”
Patrick made his way to the dining room located on the right side of the house. The table was set in red and cream with rose petals strewn between the cream coloured dinner service. Candice and Tom, Tom being another of his rugby friends, were cuddled together. Elliot, a friend from university, and his wife Flora gave him intently unsubtle thumbs ups.
Bryan had his arm around the chair of probably the most ridiculously beautiful women he’d ever seen off the pages of magazines. Five years after the date, Patrick was asked in the future what she was wearing the first time they’d met and all he could recall was the colour red. Chinese New Year red. London route master bus red. Poker chip red that clashed so fantastically with the auburn tint to her loosely curled hair and the cocoa of her skin.
“Paddy!” They all suddenly chorused and Miss World turned to him and smiled. And that’s how you break a man’s heart. With a smile. Bryan looked disappointed and stood up. “IPad this is Emelie.”
Emelie stood up and caught his hand in her own, simultaneously leaning over to kiss Patrick on both cheeks. His face felt as if it were on fire and the scent of a rich perfume clouded his mind. “Nice to meet you, at last. I've heard so much about you. All in the advertising and you're not as scary as some would have me believe.”
It took him a moment to recover and said with an honesty that had abandoned him the entirety of his dating life, “I’m sorry, you are absolutely gorgeous.”
Emelie laughed. “Thank you. Did you have some Dutch courage before you turned up?”
“I didn’t think I’d need it. Why haven’t I met you before?” He asked, not releasing her hand even as they sat down.
“I don’t think you were allowed,” Emelie teased. “Apparently, you’re a bit of a man whore. But, you’re now a born again virgin and therefore permitted to communicate with us normal folks.”
“You’re not normal folks,” he disagreed instantly. They still hadn’t let go of each other’s hand.
“Hello Patrick,” Bryan interrupted. Finally, Emelie and Patrick released each other.
“Alright Bryan?” Patrick replied, his gaze sliding from his friend back to Emelie. “Why didn’t you introduce us before?”
“She called it,” Bryan huffed. “Man whore.”
Emelie coughed. “Do you have room to talk?”
The table fell silent as Polly brought in a large, steaming dish. Never one to be affected by awkwardness, Patrick ignored the tight look on Bryan and Polly’s faces to engage his date in lovely, exclusive conversation. And how they talked. He didn’t remember there were other people in the room. Bryan did his best to involve himself in the chat that skipped from their mutual travels through Scandinavia and South America, to their mutual love of the country side and the importance of a fry up on a Saturday morning. All the time they riffed and rubbed each other for being sad sacks who needed help on “V” day, he couldn’t help thinking that there had to be something fundamentally wrong with her that she was single. He hardly touched the Shepherds pie Polly had made – to be honest, it was burnt to a cinder – and instead made sure Emelie’s wine glass remained topped up.
“Dessert in a bit,” Polly announced, looking frazzled. Patrick risked a glance at Bryan who seemed surly, picking at the label of his beer bottle rather than talking to his girlfriend or their other friends for that matter. Emelie got to her feet and Patrick rose immediately. She laughed at him. “I’ll be two minutes. What have you been watching? Downton Abbey?”
“Preparation,” he retorted, not sitting down as Emelie gathered a scarf and her handbag.
“Oh if you want to smoke, you can go outside.” Polly said, directing Emelie to the garden. Gracefully, she left the table with another of her blinding, Hollywood smiles. Patrick took a half second before following her.
“Oh god, don’t lecture me about the dangers of nicotine,” she begged, a cigarette dangling from her bottom lip. “I told my brother I’d give up.”
“Really?” He raised his eyebrows and nicked a cigarette from her packet. “When are you trying that? New Year’s Resolution?”
He flicked on his lighter and touched the flame to the end of her smoke before lighting his own. “Sod off,” she grinned. “You know Bryan didn’t say you smoked.”
“I bet he didn’t. Can’t believe he’s kept you to himself for all this time.”
Emelie blew a plume of smoke to her left. “Actually that’s more my fault.”
“Come on. You know your mate is a massive player.”
Patrick glanced down at his shoes. Fuck. Would she lump him in the same category. “And I thought if that man’s got any single friends then they’ll be the same.”
He tapped ash from the end of his cigarette. “Do you still think that?”
“We’ve just met,” she reminded him kindly. “Can’t judge you so fast.”
He felt a slither of relief before Emelie returned to the subject of Bryan. “Polly met me for the first time last week. We were all having a post work drink. We landed this humongous campaign for this clothing company. Bryan was being… a little over familiar and Polly… wasn’t entirely happy. I get her thinking. If I’m taken up by a friend of his, he may not go there. It beggars belief. Rather than talking to her boyfriend, she’d rather set me up. Even if he was as good looking as you, he’s taken. He may not believe that…”
Patrick didn’t speak for a long time, his thoughts a jumble of Emelie calling him good looking and Bryan trying it on with her and Polly managing as per usual. Instead, he watched his and Emelie’s breath misting and mingling in the cold. “Polly believes it.”
“And I get it. She’s invested a lot of time in this relationship. Why wouldn’t she believe that her boyfriend is faithful and hasn’t looked in another woman’s direction?”
“He doesn’t value what he has.”
Emelie tapped her cigarette and watched him, contemplation in her liquid, onyx eyes. “I was always told to measure a man by the company he keeps.”
“You’re my company at the moment,” he countered. “Feel free to measure.” The smile she sent him was pure mischief and he wondered how he’d managed in his life without seeing that lift of her lips on a daily basis. “Listen, I can be sorry for my friend spraying the neighbourhood like a tom cat or I can instead take you out and prove to you that I’m different.”
“That was a pitch and a half,” she praised.
He chuckled. “I’ve done better.”
Emelie extinguished her cigarette and did the same to his. “Let’s hear it.”
Patrick placed his palms warmly on her waist, his thumbs dragging back and forth over her abdomen. There were words he’d need to say, something to convince this woman that he was worth her time. Worth Saturday breakfasts together, planning trips to the Lake District, crosswords on the tube to work, worth putting up with Bryan and Polly or maybe extracting themselves from that disaster area altogether. That he wasn’t his friend. Or a man whore. That instead he could be someone she could look at in ten, twenty, fifty years time and think I’m so glad I gave him a chance. “Time share in Columbia.”
Emelie threw her head back and laughed. “You can do better than that.”
Patrick swore that was the moment he fell in love with her. Because he definitely pitched better than that.