A Story in Three Acts
“Stop!” he called.
“What?” she asked though she carried on walking..
“Stop. Please. Right there.”
“Do what?” she asked.
“That’s it, love. Great.”
“I just had to take a photo of you,” he said. “Nothing personal, just you set off the scene.”
Her face said she wasn’t exactly impressed. “What am I, a tree?”
“It’s your hair,” he said, autumn-red. “It’s for a project, for college.”
“You’re an art student?” she said, making it sound like something not worth the aspiring.
“That’s right,” he said. “What about you?”
“Yea?” He retaliated, “And what do you sell, double glazing?”
She looked at him through narrowed eyes. Was that in distaste of him? But no, he realised, she was squinting against the sun. “Do I look like the sort of person who’d sell double glazing?”
“No,” he said. “You look the sort who’d say no if I asked her out for a drink.”
“Would that be as payment for the photo?” she asked, and cocked her head.
Would it be as payment? He ran the question. Had she been a professional model he’d have had to pay her. He nodded. She mistook it.
“Yea, okay then,” she said.
He gulped. She was agreeing? He’d only said it on chance.
“When?” he asked.
“You’re doing the asking,” she said. “You say.”
“Tonight?” he said, hopeful.
“Yea. If it’s early. Now I have to get back to work.” She checked her watch.
“What time?” he asked.
“Nearly one-thirty,” she said. “The boss will kill me if I’m late again.”
“I meant what time tonight.”
“You say,” she said, and then said, “You’d better make it eight.”
“Eight. At the Cock and Bull?”
“Sure,” she said. “I must go.”
She went, leaving him to wonder her name, this girl with the autumn-red hair.
He was early. She was late.
He wondered, would she stand him up. But it wasn’t a real date. She’d only agreed to meet him as payment. Still, no harm in pretending.
He sat at the bar, eyes fixed on the mirror at the back. From there he had a clear view of the door. Every time it opened his heart did a flip. His hands seemed clammy. His mouth felt dry. Time for another swig. If she was much later in coming he’d already be drunk. He hadn’t much tolerance for lager.
Then she was there, coming through the door, looking about her, trying to find him.
He stood, and the stool he’d been sitting on toppled over. Well, at least it attracted her.
“It’s great to see you,” he said, still jiggling the stool to set it straight. “I was beginning to think . . .”
“The car wouldn’t start,” she said. “I ended up getting a taxi.”
“That’s good,” he said and she gave him a withering look.
“I mean, it means you can drink,” he said. “What are you having?”
“Lemonade and vodka. Hold the ice, just a slice.”
The way she said it made him think she was a professional drinker. It would be no good him trying to get her drunk, hoping to have his evil way with her. She’d probably drink him under the table and walk away laughing. He ordered her drink and for himself another lager.
“Neil,” he said while the barman was occupied with the order.
“Why?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, that’s my name.”
“Oh. Nicola,” she said.
“Nicky?” he asked.
“Nicola,” she repeated like a slap in the face.
“Oh. Well, hello Nicola.”
“Hello, Neil. Nice meeting you.”
Damn! Why hadn’t he thought to add that.
The barman brought the drinks. Neil paid. She downed hers in a couple of gulps.
“Thanks,” she said, and started walking away.
“Excuse me,” Neil called after her. “Nicola?”
She turned. She waited. He frowned.
“I thought we were having a drink,” he said.
“I thought we just had,” she said. “Thanks for the payment. I hope your project gets you a credit.”
“But . . . “ he grappled for words.
“Can’t stop,” she said. “I’ve a date, don’t want to be late.”
“Oh.” What else could he say? He felt a bit queasy. He shouldn’t have had that second lager. Though it could be the disappointment as well. “Have a nice evening,” he said.
“You too,” she said, and was gone.
His hand wrapped around the camera shoved into pocket. She was gone, for ever out of his life. But he still had the photo – captured as pixels, no misperceptions – of the girl with the autumn-red hair.