It was very late. The party at the field hockey club had finished hours ago and we had managed to find a house party to keep the festivities going. The host swapped AC/DC for Rush, and in the brief gap between music, I heard a girl swearing, a door slam and laughing.
I lifted my mug of wine (all the glasses were taken by the time I had arrived) and went to investigate. My mate Pigeon was being harangued by a group of girls in the kitchen. He had made a pass at the captain of the girls’ team. She had turned him down flat. He was punching well above his weight.
The captain of the girls’ team was stunningly beautiful.
Pigeon was a receding ginger with small man’s complex. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, he grabbed her round the waist and had another go. She caught him with a nice open handed slap and stormed out. Being a ginger, Pigeon’s freckled complexion was now bright red with the slap and the alcohol. He put the refusal behind him and moved onto her mate with a similar outcome.
I shook my head and left them too it, rejoining the crowd in the front room.
Rush had now been swapped for Pink Floyd. The party was slowing down and the energy was draining out of the room. I got chatting to some of the kids I used to coach for the Under 13s. They were now playing for the A-grade team and were hopelessly drunk. I was starting to feel old when I felt my phone vibrating. I didn’t recognise the number. I went out into the hall and answered. I t was the girls’ captain.
She had got herself into a right state and was crying down the phone, complaining bitterly between sniffs and tears about Pigeon, and him not taking no for an answer. I agreed that he was an arsehole and that, yes, I was nice. Why couldn’t all guys be more like me?
She was very fit and I definitely fancied her, but never thought about asking her out. She asked me if I wanted to come over to her house. I said I would, just to make sure she was all right.
I looked around, snuck out the front door and onto the street. The sun was starting to come up. The only sound was distant birds and the humming of street lights. I started to walk and then realised I wasn’t sure where she lived. I went two streets over and recognised the yellow sports car outside the small townhouse. There was a light on, so I walked up to the door.
As I was about to knock, the door flew open. Her swollen cheeks were stained with tracks of tears mixed with mascara. Her eyes were swollen from crying. She was naturally very striking, but wore a lot, probably too much, makeup. She was the first of the really orange fake tan girls (this was Ireland, we weren’t used to the sun).
Her hair was tousled and messy. Dark roots were showing through. She had changed out of her jeans and sequenced top, and into a fluffy dressing gown which was tied tight. She told me to come in and grabbed me by the hand, pulling me upstairs. I must admit, I was so tired and drunk that I wasn’t really paying attention and was thrown when she pushed open the bedroom door at the top of the stairs. The harsh light of the bedroom made me look away until my eyes became accustomed to the well-lit room.
I stumbled in over the discarded clothes all over the floor and stepped over piles of dog-eared text books. The room looked like an IRA bomb had gone off. There were hair straighteners and extension cords snaking across the rug beside the bed. She sat down on the bed and turned to me, complaining again. I was on autopilot now.
I sat down beside her and put my arm around her. She took a drink from an oversized glass of rosé and offered me some. It was sickly sweet after the heavy red I had been drinking back at the party. I winced as she dropped her head onto my chest. She put her hand on my knee and turned to face me.
I kissed her. She kissed me back. I put my hand on her neck and ran it up behind her ear. She exhaled. I was in here.
She broke off the kiss and smiled at me.
“I like you,” she said.
“I like you too,” I replied, almost too quickly.
She said she didn’t want this to be a drunken mistake and I should probably go. I nodded and left, grinning like an idiot. She walked me to the bottom of the stairs and thanked me for coming round. I asked if she was okay and she said she was. She was going to go to bed. Her hand started to slide down the door frame. She was still very drunk. I waved and went back to the party.
The party was still going, so I snuck back in the front door and into the kitchen. One of the young kids was making his girlfriend some coffee as she was sleeping off the drink on the lounge. He saw me come in the front door and looked quizzically at me.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
I stammered and he pounced.
“You stink of perfume!”
This kid was destined for a career as a detective. Pigeon stumbled in to replenish his glass. Sherlock Holmes put two and two together and sniffed my shirt.
“I know that perfume. That’s what’s-her-name’s…”
My secret was out. Pigeon had appeared and was filling his glass with whatever was left. He overheard and swore at me.
It was Sunday night in 2004. It was the night of the Men’s 100 metres Olympic Final.
I was tidying away my dinner. Spaghetti carbonara for one. My phone rang. It was the girls’ hockey captain. We chatted for a bit until the conversation swung round to the aftermath of the party less than 24 hours ago. She was trying to explain herself when the athletes went into their blocks. I stopped her.
I could hear the commentary in the background down the line. We both watched breathlessly as the sprinters exploded out of the blocks and watched the clock tick through to nine seconds before they finished in a line. As the replay ran in slow motion we got back to our conversation. She asked how I felt about the kiss the night before. She said she hadn’t wanted to make a mistake. She didn’t want to be the girl who worked her way through the men’s hockey team.
I said I didn’t think it had been a mistake. She said she was glad and asked what we should do next. I said she should come over the following Saturday for dinner. She agreed. I felt butterflies. I hadn’t had a date in a while. I sat down and uncapped a beer. My phone buzzed.
It was an SMS from her with: “Can’t wait. 🙂 xx”
My first reaction was disgust at her poor punctuation and contempt for using an avatar. This passed as I wondered what I had got myself into.
I was bombarded by text messages for the next week. I messaged her back to check for food allergies, because I’m considerate and an all-round nice guy. I decided to cook spaghetti carbonara again. It was enough effort to show I could cook without being too difficult to get wrong. I got some freshly baked bread and a good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, although given her late night taste in wine, I needn’t have bothered.
We had agreed on 7pm.
I was ready at 6:30. I had ironed a white shirt and put on a clean pair of jeans. She buzzed the intercom at ten past and I met her at the door. I chanced a peck on the cheek and welcomed her in.
She handed me a bottle of Shiraz with a white label round the neck which said, “Shiraz (red) 2002 £9.99” in black pen. I thanked her and showed her into the front room. She said how nice my place was. I thought she had been here before for an after party, but she hadn’t. She sat down and we made small-talk as I made a show of cooking, seasoning the sauce carefully and adding liberal splashes of wine to bluff her into thinking I was an accomplished chef.
I served up with a tea towel over my forearm and thick-sliced crunchy bread on a wooden chopping board. I offered her more black pepper and parmesan. She was impressed.
Conversation flowed easily as she spoke about her family, her job and some mutual friends. We finished the wine and opened her Shiraz (red) 2002. I’m no expert, but it was nice. Some of the cheap red I was accustomed to felt like drinking razor blades and generally on special at the bottle shop. This was smooth and easy.
I offered her some water and we moved to the lounge. We talked for hours with the Olympics on mute in the background as she worked her way through my CD collection. By the end of the night there were CD cases and inlay covers strewn across the floor. I was secretly having a blue fit, but let her go through them, commenting on each one.
“I don’t like the look of them [The Ramones].”
“I like the cover on this one. Is that like the cartoon of the boy and the dog? [Belle and Sebastian]”
“Too noisy [Sonic Youth].”
“Too loud [Jesus and Mary Chain].”
She said she preferred hip-hop, so I put on some NWA.
“Too violent [Gang Starr].”
“Can’t make out what they are saying.”
I didn’t risk putting on Jurassic 5 in case she made a negative comment. That would be a step too far. She said she liked Jodeci. I said that was RnB, not hip-hop.
“It’s all the same.”
I took a deep breath. She was losing me.
I changed the subject and we finished the second bottle. It was getting late now. She said she would have to go, but she was really tired. Her house was about ten minutes away. She turned to face me on the lounge and asked if I minded if she stayed, but not to get any ideas. Nothing was going to happen.
I tried to act causal and said that was okay.
She stumbled down the hall, bouncing off the wall and the bathroom door into the bedroom. I was glad I had made the effort to tidy up and kicked a t-shirt into the laundry bin. She turned and asked if she could borrow a t-shirt. I handed her an old Primal Scream “Screamadelica” tour t-shirt and she slipped into the ensuite to change.
I put on the bedside light after deciding a candle would be too cheesy. I could hear her swilling water round the basin gargling and spitting. Then she came back in. I had trouble making her out after blinding myself with the bedside light. She slid under the covers. She held my hand and fell asleep.
The next morning we both woke as the sun cracked through the blinds. Nothing had happened. She looked at her phone (again) and explained she was meeting her brother for coffee and she would call me later. She disappeared into the ensuite again and I caught a glimpse of her in the mirror through the gap in the door. She was wearing a black bra, but it was more functional than sexy. She came back into the bedroom as I was pulling my jeans on. We had some orange juice and she washed her face in the kitchen sink before kissing me goodbye.
Within minutes my phone beeped twice.
Once was her thanking me again for a great night and another from my mate Elmo, who lived across the road who had seen her make the walk of shame in last night’s clothes.
Things were going well with the Captain. I had been round to her house to watch a bit of Olympics and have tea. It had been nice.
We agreed not to rush things and were enjoying each others’ company. I was getting a fair volume of texts but it didn’t feel smothering. I had mentioned her at Sunday dinner over at my folks’ and they were pleased. As with anything in small towns, my mother had known her mother through some school thing years ago.
She had chosen to keep the relationship a secret in the early days in case she got a reputation of a serial hockey player-dater. I wasn’t sure how to take this, but agreed. It was cool to have something clandestine – our little secret. I also didn’t want to scare her off before I consummated the deal, if I’m honest.
She was an accountant for some Government department. I had a lot of mates who worked for the Government and hadn’t told any of them. Somehow, word got out that we had been seen together. My mate, who also knew her through hockey, had gone to her office to fix a printer and mentioned she looked tired.
He asked if I was keeping her up late. That was enough for her. I messaged her that evening saying that the weather didn’t look good for her training and that the pitch would probably be waterlogged. I asked her to give me a call when she got home. She messaged back immediately.
It wasn’t working out. It wasn’t me, it was her. Dumped by text.
A stream of clichés followed.
Then, minutes later another SMS beeped through. It was her best mate, another hockey player who was seeing one of my mates. She said she was really sorry to hear about things.
I didn’t get it.
I was more angry than disappointed.
There was another party about a month later. Pigeon was hideously drunk, walking round the house looking for another victim. He was carrying a pint glass of something luminous and fizzing. He explained it was a mixture of cider, Budweiser, vodka and Coke, and lemon Smirnoff Ice. Whatever it was, it was certainly working for him.
Then it happened.
One of the guys I was chatting to wanted to go outside for a smoke. There she was. Lying on top of one of the young kids from the A-grade team on the wicker lounge under a gazebo.
He was a fair bit shorter than her and seemed to be being smothered as she French kissed him, her hands wandering all over his skinny torso. She had a good ten years on him. She rolled off him and went inside. The poor kid looked shocked and violated, but it didn’t stop him from following her upstairs.
I should have felt like I had been punched in the guts, but I wasn’t. I laughed and went for a glass of what Pigeon was having.
The next morning, I was fucking livid.