Trying not to over think as the train whizzed me away and rain pelted the windows, I set my thoughts on my work and the week ahead. For some reason, though I couldn’t get the image of Darcy, Amelia, Alex and Luke sat on the sofa eating Chinese food. My cruel mind put words in their mouth and I hear Alex say, ‘good job she’s not here or she would have eaten all the food already!’
Darcy chines in with, ‘You know she’s addicted to prawn crackers. I saw her eat two whole bags once!’
‘Hey, there’ll be left overs for lunch tomorrow!’ Amelia points out.
Then maybe, Luke might tell them to stop being mean to me. Alex will laugh and say, ‘it’s fine, she’s not here, she won’t care!’
I shake my head and swallow a lump in my throat. I try to convince myself that they would never have that kind of conversation about me, but as the train pulls into the station it’s too deeply planted in my head.
I get off the train and hurry through the ticket gate, which I almost get stuck in. Without looking back, I go to the automatic doors and step outside in the rain. I wipe my face and sweep my hair back, enjoying the cold air on my skin. The crowd is crazy, but everyone gives me a wide berth and though no one is staring at me, I know they all see me. How can they miss me? The giant wearing blanket size clothes.
I turn at my name and see Ben coming through the doors. He looks smart in black trousers and a pale blue shirt. He’s unbuttoned the first few buttons and I can see a v shape of his chest. His large stomach hangs low, strapped in by a black belt. He’s dark brown hair is neatly cut short and his face looks tried and concerned.
‘Hi,’ I say softly.
‘Are you okay? Did you have a panic attack on the train again?’ he asks.
I shake my head. He reaches out and takes my hand. His fingers are warm and soft.
‘Let’s go and eat. You’ll feel better.’
I nod and let him led me off into the city.
The bad weather hasn’t stopped people – mostly the students, from a night out. The bars, pubs and clubs already seem busy. We weave through everyone and the streets, passing a Superlambanana statue on the way. They are a new icon of Liverpool; with the body of a sheep and tail of a lamb covered in brightly coloured paint. I feel drawn to stop and look, but Ben tugs me on.
We reach my favourite restaurant and Ben opens the door. The smell of burgers and fried onions hangs in the air. We take the second window booth in the small sixties America themed room. The long counter is directly to my left and it stretches all the way to the back where the toilets are. On the other side of it is a row of plastic red chairs and matching tables as well as two more read leather booths at the end.
The walls are covered with all sorts of memorabilia and Americana. Most of its sixties rock ‘n’ roll, with framed records and photos. A red electric guitar hangs a meter or so above my head. The sign claiming it belonged to some rock singer I’ve never heard of. It always reminds me of Back To The Future.
Feeling soaked, I take off my jacket and grab a menu. It feels slightly sticky in my hands, but I turn the pages anyway. I scan the words, but don’t really take them in, my thoughts have switch to wondering why I’m here. Of course, to have a date with Ben, but was it actually worth it? Maybe my time would have been better spent studying some more and stuffing my face full of Chinese food.
‘You look nice,’ Ben says suddenly.
I glance over and thank him.
A waiter appears and politely takes our drinks order, a strawberry milkshake for me and a vanilla one for Ben.
Then Ben reaches over and takes my hands in his. He rubs my knuckles and watches the movement.
‘Thank God you text me when you did,’ I speak out, ‘I sort of forgot we were meeting tonight. I was busy studying.’
‘Glad I did then and you study too much!’ Ben responses.
I shrug, ‘a PhD is a lot of work.’
‘And what will you do when it’s done next year?’
‘Stay at the uni, hopefully.’
I trail off and look outside at the rain and the city lights. I can just about hear people laughing and talking. Ben is staring at me, I can feel it, waiting for me to go on, but I don’t want to talk. My mood feels like the weather; depressed and gloomy. Ben is still stroking my hands.
‘I really like you, Marcy,’ he says.
I snap back to him, ‘what? We’ve only met twice now…’
‘So?’ he presses and smiles at me.
I press my lips together and smile back, I can’t help it. He’s cute with his baby chubby cheeks and long black eye lashes. There’s something infections about his orange slice smile and laughing eyes.
The waiter returns and we are forced to break hands as the drinks are placed down.
‘Ready to order food?’ he asks.
‘I’ll have a chicken burger, please’ I say.
Ben ponders, glances at the menu then, ‘can I have the bbq chicken pizza?’
‘Of course, thank you,’ the waiter speaks and turns away.
I watch him go and place the order in even though the chef is right behind him. Looking further up, I notice the last booth next to the toilets is occupied. Two young teenage looking boys are staring at me and I can make out a third too, but all I can see is his sticking up hair. The boys look away and carry on with what they are doing.
A wave of nerves wiggles in my stomach and I turn back to the window. I just know they are talking about me…
‘Marcy? Are you feeling okay?’ Ben asks, he’s been sipping his milkshake.
‘Sure,’ I mutter and take a drink of mine, though I wish it was alcohol.
‘Look, I know that was a bit sudden, but you said we had to be honest about everything with each other. So I was just being,’ Ben explains.
I stir the straw in the thick shake, wrestling with myself over what to say.
Ben leans back, his hands pressing down the table top, ‘it’s fine if you don’t like me…I really thought you did though…’
‘I do! It’s just that…’ I take a deep breath, ‘I’m worried you only want one thing…’
His lips twitch and form an O as he makes that sound.
I shrug, ‘why else would you want to date me? I’m not pretty and I have all these issues.’
‘You’re completely wrong. You are very pretty and your issues are not all of you,’ Ben cries.
‘Really?’ I look up through my eye lashes, trying to judge his words.
‘Yes. And of course that’s the ultimate goal, but I’m happy to wait and right now I’m just enjoying your company,’ Ben adds.
I smile, feeling the nerves being overtaking with tingles of delight.
‘A chicken burger and a pizza?’
We both look up and let go of each other’s hands. The waiter places the food down, tells us to enjoy and leaves.
‘Do you really mean that?’ I ask.
Ben nods and unfolds his napkin, ‘wouldn’t say it if I didn’t.’
I pick up my cutlery and spear a chip. Putting it in my mouth, I watch Ben chopping on a slice of pizza and I just feel things are going to work out between us.