This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1400 words.
Rather than risk being late, Gary arrived almost an hour early. This girl really seemed to be the one, judging from the friendly emails, and matching profile. He liked her name too. Belle. He had practiced saying it, unsure where to add any inflection. Should it just sound like ‘Bell’, or would it be nicer to elongate the double ‘L’? He thought he might tell her that it was French for ‘Beautiful’, but maybe not. Surely she would know that, and he didn’t want it to sound like a line. After all, this was a hot date, the best he had managed to arrange in ages.
The Pasta restaurant was part of a chain, but one of the better ones. Not too trendy and expensive, but better than some of the options in the town. When he had suggested it, Belle had agreed it was a good choice, and that had made Gary feel good. The waitress had said “sit anywhere”, so he chose a window table; one where he could see the door, and watch for Belle’s arrival. He gazed at the early evening crowds rushing home from work, and was sure that some people glanced enviously at the smart young man waiting at a table for two. The voice of the waitress snapped him out of his reverie. “Can I get you anything? A drink?” Gary smiled at the girl. “I’m waiting for someone, but you can bring a bottle of Chianti, and two glasses. We’ll order the food later”. She left the table without comment, returning almost immediately with the open bottle of wine and the glasses.
Gary inspected the table. It looked clean enough, but he detected some grains of salt around the menu stand, and what looked like a small oil stain on the opposite edge. He didn’t bother to call the girl back. Instead, he licked his paper napkin and wiped down the table himself, moving the dried flower, the two plastic menus in the stand, and the already laid cutlery. When he was happy that it was clean, he poured himself a glass of the wine. Just one to calm me down, he thought. I need to make sure it tastes alright anyway.
Belle checked her watch again. The cab would be there in fifteen minutes, but she was ready. It had been worth taking the afternoon off work. She had been able to get to the hairdresser for a trim, then get home in time to have a long bath, and do her nails. It was only a pasta place, so nothing too dressy, but her new short boots would look good with the dark red skirt, and she was happy with the cream top she had chosen.
She really liked this Gary. Only a couple of years older, decent job, and his own flat too. She was fed-up with all the guys who still lived with their parents, or those who claimed to have a place which was ‘not fit to show you’. She reckoned that meant they were in a relationship, looking for something on the side. Gary seemed honest, and quite good-looking too. She even toyed with the idea that she might tell him that her name wasn’t really Belle, but would wait to see how it went.
The cab was going to be late. she was sure of it. She rang the company, but they just said he would be there, probably stuck in traffic or something.
Gary looked up at the clock in the restaurant. It was in the shape of a bread board, with different pasta shapes denoting the numbers. Belle still had plenty of time to get there. He picked up his phone, and scrolled around until he found his favourite photo of her. Light brown hair, long and lustrous, a nice smile showing a hint of perfect teeth, and those deep brown eyes that seemed to looking right at him. He felt great. The wine was perfect, as the second glass had confirmed. He topped up his glass, thinking he had never felt so relaxed on a date before. When he saw the waitress heading for his table with her notepad, he waved her away. There were only four other people in the restaurant that early, so he didn’t understand why she seemed to want to pester him.
When the cab didn’t turn up, Belle considered texting Gary, letting him know she might be late. But would that seem to be too keen? After all, weren’t women expected to be a little late? She rang the taxi company instead and they promised her only ten more minutes.
Gary hadn’t bothered to look at the menu. He had a plan. When Belle chose what she wanted, he would just say “Oh, me too. I was going to have that. What a coincidence”. Let her think that they liked the same food, as well as Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. He didn’t care what he had to eat. In fact, he was too excited to eat. Not often you find a pretty girl who likes so many of the same things. The messages had gone back and forth all week, leading up to him asking her out tonight. He had been complimentary and polite. Nothing smutty or suggestive. That wouldn’t do, not for a girl like Belle. Topping up his glass once more, he caught the eye of the pushy waitress. Pointing a finger at the bottle of Chianti, he said “Same again”. It had come out louder than he had expected, and the others seated inside had all looked around at him.
She plonked the bottle down on the table, and walked away. Gary grinned exaggeratedly at her disappearing back. “Thank you”, he called after her, perhaps with more sarcasm than he had intended. He checked the big clock again. The big hand was on Penne, the small hand on Fusilli. That was it. Belle was officially really late. Gary sensed the joy drain out of him like the shaving water from his sink. She wasn’t going to come now, he was certain of that. He checked his phone. No missed calls, no messages. He slurped down the rest of his drink, and reached for the second bottle. He would just finish that, before making his way home. Hopefully, Belle would have a decent excuse, and he would get a profuse apology later. If not, then to hell with online dating. He was fed up with it.
Belle was flustered by the time the cab got her as far as the main square. The traffic was so bad, she was going to be very late. But if she walked the rest of the way, it might be faster. No point sitting watching the meter creeping up, and listening to the cabby complain about the road works. She paid him off, and started to walk instead. Only ten minutes, even in the new short boots.
The red-faced manager stood outside the toilet cubicle, listening to the man inside retching and bubbling. He could see the soles of the smart shoes through the gap underneath. He tapped on the door again, raising his voice. “Don’t think you’re getting out of here without paying. I have your bill here. Thirty-eight pounds for two bottles of wine, service not included.” Gary muttered something incomprehensible into the toilet bowl, and dragged his wallet out from the inside pocket of his jacket, pushing it along the floor until it was outside the door. It had come over him all of a sudden. He had felt hot, and his mouth was filling with water. He knew he had to get to the toilets, but didn’t remember how he had ended up on the floor inside the cubicle. The manager removed two twenty-pound notes from the wallet, and gingerly slid it back inside. “I suggest you clean yourself up and leave. We don’t need your type in here, this is a family establishment”.
Belle stared through the window, easily able to see all the tables. There was a couple with two children at one table, and a teenager wearing a baseball cap at another. No sign of Gary. He must have got annoyed that she was so late, and left. She felt very guilty, and decided to call his phone. It went straight to answerphone, but she was reluctant to leave a message.
She would explain later.
To be continued…