I hesitate and a stop before the door. There is still time to turn around and go back. I look over my shoulder and watch the night crowds hurrying about. Each person or group of people seems caught up in their own worlds. Laughter fills the air alongside happy voices and the tapping of shoes. I turn back, sweeping away my fringe and give myself a pep talk.
Now, Ash there’s nothing to worry about, be brave, be normal. Be yourself. Have a good time, live it up a little. Try and stay lady-like, be polite. Don’t let them pay for all the drinks and don’t get drunk. If anyone offers you anything, even a lift home or to find you a taxi, say no. You don’t want what happened last time again, do you? No, don’t even think about it. Don’t go there. Stay with the now and let the past lay where it belongs, in the past.
I reach out for the door and notice my hand shaking, but before I can drop my arm back down, my fingers and palm are touching the door. I don’t have an option, but to open the door and go inside, or else I’m going to look like Superwoman trying to throw down with an unlocked door. Cue national embarrassment.
The door opens easily and I enter a noisy and packed bar. Some old rock ‘n’ roll music is playing in the background, almost to itself because no one is really here to listen to tunes. A woman in a tight pink frilly dress appears at my elbow and looks me over. Without speaking, I pull a folded sheet of paper from my handbag and offer it to her.
‘You’re late,’ she says in a matter of tone voice, that reminds me of a teacher’s.
‘I’m sorry. The bar is not the easiest to find. That map I received was badly drawn,’ I counter back using my best teacher voice.
The woman huffs at me and ticks something- my name- off the clipboard she is holding.
‘Your first drink is free. Show this at the bar,’ she declares and hands me a slip of paper.
She turns and walks through the crowd, a slight shake of her head and no doubt mouthing something bad about me.
I clutch the paper and my handbag as I stand like a statue and cast my eyes around the room. Men and woman are stood in pairs or groups, hands holding drinks and chatting away. I feel like an intruded, an uninvited guest at a party. I need to blend, just like I did in high school with pastels on a canvas.
I walk to the bar, lay my free drink paper on the damp, worn wooden surface and eye up the bartenders. They look like teenage boys, fresh from college and dressed like penguins. They are moving like hummingbirds though and their dancing movements as they serve drinks fascinates me. My turn comes and I order a rum and coke.
My eyes drift to the side and I see a group of four men, who have clearly come together. I don’t know how I know that, but I guess it’s from the way they are acting. It looks all ‘pal’ like and young men gawking at skirt and daring each other to be the first to talk to her. They are breaking the rules, you are meant to come alone.
I shake my head and sip my drink. Turning around results in no handsome prince bumping into me, just the view of the door and a cluster of people. I have to drift. Standing by the bar just looks odd, especially in this scene. I weave my way around people and hear snatches of conversation. The standard topics for people first meeting and being on a blind date. What’s your name? How old are you? What’s your star sign? Who are your family? Likes? Dislikes? Funny joke, that isn’t actually funny and you’re heard a billion times. Cheese chat up lines; here’s some money, go phone your mom and tell her you’re not coming home tonight.
I find an empty table and sit down on a straight back chair. I take a mouthful of rum and coke, swallow and take another. I’m probably going to need some more to get me through. I place my glass down and watch Cupid flapping about the room. He needs to shot an arrow my way for a change.