ALONE

Alone at the entrance, she shuddered. Ordinarily something like this would not frighten her, but this time it did. Him. Facing him. That feeling of true dread pickled in her stomach.
How can I do this?
She saw him there. The back of his head, the hair perfectly cut, the nape of his neck shaved hairless with clean lines. His shoulders, broad and square in his suit jacket – he was alert.
There was a small cup to his right, browned and emptied. A serviette lay crumpled.
How can I do this to him?  
He was at Table Six, the table they had agreed upon because a 6 could easily be misread as a 9. She had a sense of humour when she was confident.
His left hand flicked forward and checked an iPhone. He was checking the time. The hand was large, strong, yet subtle in the way it held the iPhone, and curiously fragile in how the thumb stroked across the screen. The device was lowered deftly and made no noise as it kissed the rouge table cloth.
I can’t put him through this.  I’m so boring!
Markus. An area manager for a high street clothing firm. He told women he was gay to stop any further advances. And he told men he was in a relationship. He kept a photograph of a Bollywood actor on his desk for extra affect. “Ranjit”. They’d been together since college.
Markus, who spends school holidays rock climbing with disabled kids. Markus knew she’d never believe him because people are not what they seem to be on the internet, so he attached photos which were not complimentary. True enough, Markus was there with the wheelchair-using children, sweaty, in lycra and wearing an orange helmet. No one looks good in an orange helmet.
Markus, who wrote a beautiful poem for her. She’d ran it through several search engines, and even asked a librarian to read it because not everyone is what they appear to be on the internet. Surprisingly, Markus’ poem was Markus’ poem! Not a copy, not a plagiarism. Markus had written it. For her.
I cannot do this!
But she could not move. This was a crossroads moment. She had to make a decision, and the rest of her life would depend on what she chose to do next.
Markus, whose best friend has a holiday cottage in Tunisia. Sidi Bou Said, a pretty little village by the sea known for its white houses with blue doors and window shutters, as well as for its famous residents and visitors. Flowers lined the descent to the beach, which was actually a tiny, secluded bay. She had seen that Markus has a bad taste in Bermuda shorts, and she had wondered how the police officer in the photograph could stay so cool and not sweat in his navy blue uniform, gendarme’s peaked cap and white, gauntlet-like gloves.
Either I go in and sit down with my date, or I walk out and go back to my boring life.
Markus, who glass paints ceiling mobile hangings. The one he’d made for his nephew was stunning. Just enough blue paint to let the light in, and just enough blue to bring a depth of colour to the room. The first photo showed Markus with little pots of paint and a sheet of glass from an old shower door.
What can I do?
Markus, who wanted to learn Salsa dancing, but he had two left feet. He’d given line dancing a go, but quit after the fifth time he had crashed into another participant.
I am so ordinary. So boring. Markus would get bored of me very quickly. He deserves someone else. Someone who can keep up with what he’s doing.
But he’s gorgeous! And he waited for me! I deserve this! I deserve someone who can make me happy!

She knew what she wanted. She took those fourteen steps forward until she stood across Table Six in front of her date.
‘Hello?’ Markus looked up at her with raised eyebrows.
‘Hello!’
‘I’m sorry,’ Markus said. ‘Can I help you with something?’
‘Hello, I’m Shelley,’ she said with her hands twitching at her sides. ‘Well, Sheila really, but I like to be called Shelley.’
Markus stood. He was around 5’8” as he had said. He frowned. ‘Shelley?’
‘Yes!’ She sat down, ready for the date to start. Markus remained standing.
‘You’re Shelley?’
‘Well, Sheila.’
‘Is this some sick joke?’
She was flustered, but managed to smile and gestured for him to sit down. He didn’t, but she poured herself some water.
‘You’re Shelley?’ Markus repeated. ‘Shelley, who I’ve been… For four months…?’
‘Yes! That’s me!’
‘This is sick.’ Markus put a hand to his head. ‘This is sick. I’ve opened up… I’ve – I’ve trusted you! I can’t – I can’t -‘
She stood up and went to take hold of him. He shot back, stumbling into the back of the lady dining at Table Five.
‘Sorry, sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘Sorry.’
Markus managed to stagger out from the entrance, cold air blowing in from the opened door.
Sheila stood alone, shuddering at the thought of going back home to Bill and his train set. She turned to the incredulous couple at Table Five and said, ‘Obviously Markus isn’t the man I thought he was.’

This story simply unfolded itself to me as I wrote it today at a writing group I have started to co-ordinate. Ten words were chosen to incorporate into a story. I started off with a woman who was frightened of going on her date because she has low self-esteem, but then the story twisted nicely in an unexpected way. Always nice when that happens 🙂

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About catherinehume

Catherine Hume: Writer, social care worker and a liver of a life less ordinary.
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