Those Awkward Firsts

So it’s all going on, and it’s all going well.

The food is on schedule, and your flatmate, Russell, is out of the way. She has arrived on time, and she looks gorgeous, as always – nicely turned out, but casual – and it’s still enough of a novelty to see her in jeans that you just are a little awestruck by her bum.

There’s no more awkwardness then you’d expect, as you let her in – a slight pause on the step as you both wonder whether you should shake hands, or air-kiss, or something, but it’s okay – and you remember to take her jacket like a gent.

As you turn a little away from her to pop it on the hook on the back of the door, you give the living-room the once over, making sure it’s all squared away, and it is. Which of course is daft, because she’s been here before, albeit with a bunch of your mutual workmates, after the pub, and she already knows what it looks like normally.

So it’s all good as you ask her if she wants a drink, and it’s all good as she accepts a glass of wine, and you like the way that she fingers your DVD shelf, saying that she likes this film, and hasn’t seen that one, and thought the other one was a bit naff.

And then dinner is ready, and you tell her to settle in at the dining table – such as it is, settled behind the sofa, where you and your flatmate normally end up eating your food on your laps, because the table is only cleared for special occasions. Which this is the first one of, come to think of it.

But then you’re sitting opposite each other, a bottle of wine between you, each of you tucking in to your meal, and it doesn’t matter how many pub lunches you’ve shared together over time, because nothing has prepared you for this.

Because it didn’t matter how much flirting, or chatting, or innuendo you shared at work, or how many times she rested her fingers on your arm while she was explaining something to you, or how many times you talked about how Die Hard 4 was an alright movie, but not a Die Hard movie, and she either pretended to care or actually did, eyes meeting yours the whole time…

… None of that makes a difference, and neither does the tastiness of the food, even if you do say so yourself, because all that matters is no matter how much you both pretended otherwise, this is actually a date now, and that makes you two different people from the ones who seem good together the rest of the time. Now you’re actually two people who might actually be together before the end of the night, and that shifts things around, raises the stakes.

Which is why you and the girl that can’t stop chatting and touching and laughing the rest of the time find yourselves suddenly silent – well, not quite silent, because apparently spag bol is the noisiest food on earth, and it turns out not that easy to stay cool eating.

Even when it’s a fucking good one.

You’re casting around inside for something smart to say – shooting glances at the top of her head, certain that you’ll catch her eye, but she always seems to have just looked back down. Every conversational gambit would just seem forced, and, ah, damn, stupid, you forgot to put any music on – doing it now would seem even more contrived. Every time you think of something, you’re midway through a mouthful, and by the time you’re clear, you’ve forgotten totally what you were going to say.

So thank god when she meets your eye, and says:

“Mmm, this is lovely, actually!”

As if it’s the most natural thing in the world, and in doing so even feeds you your next line, which is:

“Well, there’s no need to seem so surprised!”

In a mock hurt voice, which, oh dear god, leads her to put her hand out, and tap her fingers on the back of yours, for just a second, in consolation.

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean it like that!” She grins. And then goes back to her food.

And you realise it’s your turn to say something, but of course, you’re back at square one. Sensing that letting the distance between her last words and your next ones grow will only make your nervousness worse, you just say the first thing that comes into your head.

“Well, I had to ask my mum for help.” You say, and inwardly grimace. Fair play, you keep it off your face. Your mum? Really?

“Your mum? Really?” She says, and raises her eyebrow, in a way that might mean she’s amused, or might mean she has decided you are a lost cause.

“Oh… well… yeah. Actually, I was going to make this thing, cornrows? I’d read about them on this guy’s website, and they sounded nice. I got some pork in special, but when I got in from work tonight, Russ had eaten the lot in a stir fry.

And, well, I make a blinding bolognese, but I didn’t have half the herbs and veg that I normally use, and didn’t have time to go to the shops.

So, well, I vaguely remembered that my mum used to make a decent one without all the extra stuff in it, but I didn’t know how to get it all thick and nice like she did.”

“It is nice and thick.” She says, and gives you a wink. You blush a little, and that can’t make you look particularly manly, but you persevere.

“So I phoned and asked her how she did it, and she told me, and that was that.”

She coils some spaghetti and twist the fork, gathering sauce with the twirling pasta, and lifts it to her mouth. “Well,” she says, teasing “your mum taught you well.”

“I hope you appreciate what I went through for you.” You say, watching her carefully un-spooling the pasta into her mouth, and trying not to think too hard about her lips. “My mum is an absolute nightmare! I haven’t talked to her in weeks, and I had to promise a visit just to get her off the phone.”

She laughs as you take a mouthful of wine. “Everyone thinks that about their mum.” She says, and then, “I bet she isn’t all that bad.”

You mock cough over your wine.

“Okay. While I was trying to get her to spill her recipe, she started going on about this film. It was one of those ‘oh, you know, it had that actor in it. The nice one. You know. He was in that thing, oooh, what was it called.'”

She laughs, and reiterates, “Well, every mum does that.” You wave her words away playfully, giving a fake grimace.

“No way. She was talking about this guy, and she wouldn’t leave it be, so I started asking her questions. Is he young? ‘Not really. Well, about your age.’ Was he black or white? ‘Oh, white, almost definitely.’ Good looking? ‘Well, he has a kind of pretty, but big face’.”

“A big face?”

“Yes, a big face. Huge. Whatever that means. She said he had sticky out ears, like Prince Charles. And then she said, that’s it, he plays a prince. A French prince. She’s almost certain about it. In a TV series that’s been on for years.”

“A French prince? What, in, like, a historical show?”

“Well, that’s what I thought, but she was sure it was a comedy… I wondered for a minute if it was Blackadder or something, but she was certain it wasn’t the one with Mr Bean in, because it was American…”

“A French… Oh, wait, hang on a minute… French prince?”

“Yeah, you’ve got it… ‘The French prince of Bel Air’.”

“Oh, that’s just cute.”

“Yeah, really cute. She was talking about Will Smith.”

“Heh. But, hang on a minute… she said he was white?”

“MmHm. Insisted on it. For, like, twenty minutes.”

She starts to laugh. So hard that she puts her fork down and after a few minutes has to splutter an apology and ask for a glass of water. You get it for her, and sit back down until she calms down a little, and seems to be breathing again.

“And that’s what I went through for you…” You add, and there’s something about the way you say it that sets her off again.

After that, the meal passes swimmingly.

Years later, when you tell the story, sometimes it’s the meal, sometimes it’s Will Smith, and sometimes it’s your mum that got you the kiss, or the shag, or the girl. Depending on who you tell it to.

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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