This story was a hybrid. It drew on actual events that occurred to the writer friend of mine (who wore very Eighties style large blue-rimmed glasses, it was only 1991) and he was slightly annoyed that I had used his story, i.e. that by the time the date of a gig that has been re-arranged comes around you have split from the woman you were originally going to go with and yet you both still have your tickets. The comment about the glasses was said to him by a woman at a party. However, I relocated the action to real places in the Midlands and the blunders that John makes were actual ones I made at a party and really made a bad impression on a trio of women who then ignored me for the rest of the evening. Of course for me this story was simply wish-fulfilment as I never got a first chance let alone a second one.
He wiped the condensation from his blue-rimmed glasses, steamed up by the change in temperature. The gaudy red seating was almost dazzling as he stepped into the fast food joint. Everything was intense from the lighting to the faded photos of the culinary delights dished up from behind the counter. It hit his tired eyes harder than usual. If the buses did not stop right outside their window there would never be any customers in here. He rejected the idea of chips though it was early and he would yellowish ones from the top of the stack rather than the dark brown remnants milling around in the viscous fat. They all had a kind of eggy taste he could not stomach at present.
“Just a coke.” he said to the woman behind the counter. The staff despised the place as much as the customers, but for both it was a matter of necessity. The woman rammed a few thin slices of ice into the base, to water down the drink. You got ice even in March when it was the last thing your chilled teeth needed. He dug his hands into the pockets of his jeans, the smart black ones tonight, he had been out on the town. Amongst the crumpled tissues and half eaten packets of mints he found the necessary change and left it on the top of the counter. He peered into the darkness at the bus stop but it was more force of habit, he expected nothing for at least twenty minutes, and then only if he was lucky.
“John.” He heard a voice shout and lifted his arm to shield his eyes from the intense almost interrogating light. “John, over here.” The call came from Helen and Rob squeezed into the chair-table set up by the door. In here everything was bolted to the floor. Like him they were waiting for the bus. They had braved the burgers though.
John squeezed his knees under the shiny plastic table, something that probably looked so modern in the early seventies, but now just looked so early seventies.
“How were they?” Helen asked about the gig he had just left. “After having to wait another three months for them.”
“Fine.” John replied. When he had bought the tickets back at the top of the year he never suspected that they would postpone and bring all the relationships and hang-ups of the new year into early spring.
“You go with Fiona?” Rob asked.
“Mmm” John replied.
“Not wandering around town this time. Be prepared, eh.” Rob moved to poke him, to show it was a joke, Helen elbowed him first and he turned to look into her hard stare. “Sorry, only joking.” He apologised.
“It’s okay.” John replied, he had heard it all too many times to be offended. Back around Christmas he had been shocked to hit it off with Fiona at that party, they had been the only two left who could see straight. It had gone on long before that, but not in a physical sense of course, he was never good at that. By the time they had scoured the city for contraceptives her feelings, her lust maybe, had faded. The story spread fast and he was constantly admonished to make like a scout and, in future, be prepared.
“There seemed no point in going separately only to run into her there anyway. The band were good, worth waiting for.” He answered their two questions at one go.
“So how did it go?” Helen asked softly, he welcomed her sympathy and understanding. She was not one of these types of women that you often met who wanted everyone happily paired off, but she did care for their morale. Mentally John underlined her name on his list of true friends.
“Well, fine I suppose.” In fact it had not. The tickets had been the attempt to win over Fiona, to see if she had been playing with him or whether the night after a party had some basis. There was all the general friendliness too of course, but you could never tell with that, he knew.
“It’s three months on, and we’ve only spoken on a superficial level since, almost as if she was a different woman to that night. I really cocked things up, and left her there with Kate, Jane and the mob, it was a blessing we ran into them.”
“So she’s not interested?” Helen leaned forward enthusiastically her sense of gossip had been triggered. Rob was staring out at the people milling round the bus stop and in the street.
“No, but I know because I just said absolutely the wrong thing. I started off on the beers you know to give me courage, but my tongue ran free and I just said the worst things.”
“Well I told her both those stories about the kids down our street...”
“Both stories.” Helen exclaimed in mock horror.
“...then I started slagging off Europeans forgetting half her family’s Dutch, and then something about I hoped we would not end up walking the streets tonight. It got worse. I knew it too. I don’t believe any of those things, it all just spouted out. I left her at the bar with the others saying I was going to the loo, and ran here. That is it, it was a mistake in the first place.”
“The trouble with you two is that you know each other too well.”
“Yeah, familiarity breeds contempt.” Rob interjected absent- mindedly.
“And there’s all the pressure of last time hanging over you. You should both get away from here and really sort things out.” Helen continued.
“What alone? I don’t think...”
“Don’t put up those barriers. I’ve heard that too many times. I’m beginning to sound like a counsellor.” she stopped talking and joined Rob in staring out the window. They both caught sight of their bus’s headlights as it turned the corner at the bottom of the hill.
“That’s ours.” Rob said.
“We’ve got to go. We’ll see you around soon. Stay happy.” Helen added and reached forward to kiss him on the cheek. The pair of them awkwardly slid out from under the plastic table. Outside they waved through the glass before getting on the bus and leaving John to stare into his watery coke.
It was not too many minutes before his bus arrived. He ran out into the street and up the bus’s steps, flashing his bus pass to the driver. He settled in a seat on the lower deck. He sprawled across it. Now he realised how much the evening had tired him, he would be glad to be in bed.
The bus jolted back and forth as it swung round the tight curves of the road system, and then it came to halt. He did not bother to open his eyes to watch the people getting on. He jerked back into life though when he felt a warm body pushing him along the seat to make room to sit down.
“What?” he blurted as he sat up.
“I caught up with you at last, that was no way to treat a lady, especially one you were escorting.” It was Fiona. John prepared himself for a verbal battering, but her smile told him she was joking.
“Because you, me, everyone makes mistakes. Because I know you’re human, if you weren’t I wouldn’t like you.” She took his hand, he could feel a small packet pressed into his palm. “And because I can’t resist men with blue-rimmed glasses.”