Wednesday, 15 April 2009


By Emma

He sits in the corner like he’s part of the place, eyes down, looking like he’s hoping to god no one actually realises he’s there. His hair’s too long for the clothes he has on, or maybe it’s a statement of rebellion, a floppy fringe to undo the shirt and cardigan ensemble. It doesn’t really work. I forget I’m staring and accidentally make eye contact. He’s as shocked as me, and we have an awkward moment of not quite knowing what to do. We smile in that eyebrows-raised kind of way, both of us hoping the other will break the glance, killing the encounter dead. But neither of us does, and it continues too long for us to not make an approach and engage in some kind of conversation.

He presses his hands into his legs, like he’s going to push himself up, but he doesn’t actually move, and it’s me that steps over into his personal space and nods hello. Now he stands. There’s another seat next to him, but we both know if I sit down we’re trapped, so we stand face to face and rack our brains for words to say.

I know he works in the IT department. His desk’s right by the photocopier. I see him every day, and I know we’ve been introduced, but I can’t for the life of me remember his name. It’s too embarrassing to ask him now, after working there for two years. I’ve never really had the need to know his name before now. Sometimes he comes to the pub with us, but he always sticks with the other IT nerds on their own little table, that’s next to ours but is never pushed up against it. A couple of them are here. I saw them earlier, by the punchbowl. Note to self: steer well clear of that. Maybe they’ll be back soon, and I can make my escape. Or maybe he’s been on his own all night, and no one else is ever coming by, and I’ll have to think up a good excuse pretty quick if I don’t want to spend the rest of my night stuck in this weird dialogue with him.

‘Fancy seeing you here,’ he says, and almost immediately he cringes. He visibly shrinks at least two inches.

‘Yeah,’ I say, trying to think of something witty to say back, something that isn’t sarcastic and mean. He would usually get my sarcastic and mean retort, but at such close quarters, I worry it’ll slam right back into me, so I settle for, ‘Nobody gets out of a Dan The Man party.’

Dan The Man is our boss. Dan The Man made up his own nickname. Dan The Man only refers to himself in the third person. And we all think he’s a tosser. He throws these parties every few months, and no one is allowed to miss them. On the plus side, the booze always flows freely, and he usually has a nicely catered buffet. And as long as you get into a couple of the photos early on, you can pretty much leave straight away if you want to. He spends all Monday poring through the pics on facebook, adding his inane captions and tagging everyone. There’s no trace of family in Dan The Man’s house. No real photos anywhere. It’s like stepping into a show home. Even IKEA feels more lived-in than his place does. But all that free booze - who can pass that up. And there’s none of that supermarket own brand stuff either. Dan The Man certainly has taste where alcohol is concerned, if nowhere else.

‘ Guess not,’ he says, staring at the floor.

This is painful. We’re both nodding, trying to will words out. He’s turning me into a social retard now, like it’s contagious.

‘Who are you here with?’ I say, trying to kill the silence.

‘Er...I just kind of myself.’ He takes a swig from his bottle. ‘I’m gonna catch up with Steven and those guys in a bit. I was just...y’know, erm..’

I know he can talk. I’ve seen him chattering away with ‘Steven and those guys’ loads of times. I mean, they’re probably just telling jokes in binary, but they look the same as normal people do when they talk. And maybe it’s just we have nothing in common to talk about, and I’m glad about that, by the way, but fuck, there’s always the weather. Surely we can hold a conversation about the weather and it not be too traumatic. Surely?

‘I didn’t know whether to bring my brolly or some shades, weather’s so crazy lately,’ I try.

‘I always carry a brolly,’ he says, and he bends down and picks up this massive golf one and starts waving it like he’s a magician.

I don’t get the chance to change my expression from ‘what the fuck?’ to something more composed because he looks me right in the eye, exposing me for the shit I am. I try to morph it somehow into wonder, amazement, and he lets me get away with it, smiles like he believes he amazed me, but he knows. And I know he knows.

He puts the umbrella back down on the floor. There are dog hairs on the back of his cardigan, and for some reason this makes me want to cry.

‘Hey Suzie, babe, we’re making like trees and getting out of here.’ Tom’s appeared from the depths of the party and now has one hand on my hip as the other pulls open his jacket, revealing a bottle of Bourbon. ‘We’re taking the party back to mine.’ As Chris joins us, their jackets clink together. This is my chance to escape. I look at my feet and they’re already pointing away. They’ve been pointing away all along. I just have to lift them, step over the umbrella, and I’m free. But I’m not going anywhere.

‘Hey. Thanks, but I was just talking to...’

‘Ben.’ He says his name quietly, like he’s feeding me the answer in a game of charades.

‘Ben.’ So easy to remember. ‘So....I’m gonna stick around for a while.’

‘Right,’ Tom says, giving me the you okay? stare.

I nod, flash a smile, and Tom walks to the door with Chris, looking over his shoulder at me the whole time. And then they’re gone. And it’s me and Ben, in the corner, alone again.

I don’t know why he’s getting to me. I’ve joined in with the mockery so many times without even thinking about it. But now I feel bad because he had to whisper me his name.

‘I think “talking” was a bit hyperbolic,’ he says.

I meet his eyes and he smirks.

‘Yeah, maybe just a bit.’

A roar erupts from the other room, followed by the chant of ‘Snog, snog, snog!’

‘Damn,’ I say, ‘looks like we’re missing out on Dan’s obligatory game of Spin the Bottle.’

‘If they realise they’re one female down they’ll send out a hunting party, drag you back by your hair.’

‘I usually try and leave before they start on the games.’

‘At least you’re close to the door. If I see them coming I’ll give you a nod and you can make a run for it.’

I reach my arm out and pull a dog hair off his sleeve. He stands perfectly still, like we’re playing Operation and he doesn’t want to buzz. We both keep our eyes lowered, staring at each others’ hands. Another cheer goes up. Ben takes another mouthful of beer.

‘Snog, snog, snog!’ rasps through to us, louder than before. Ben’s bottle is pointed at me, and we both notice this at the same time. He smiles and shakes his head, makes eye contact for a split-second. And I lean into him, lips-first. We kiss for maybe a minute. He tastes bready, from the beer, but I like the non-mintiness of unexpected kisses. And I like the way he tangles his fingers in my hair.

When we stop kissing, we stand close and I notice my feet are toe to toe with his. But even if I’m actually where I want to be, I know it’s still time for me to leave.

‘I’m going to make a run for it,’ I say.

Ben holds my gaze for a long time before he says, ‘Yeah,’ and blinks, and then adds, ‘See you around.’

I nod, ‘Yeah.’ And we smile, and then I go.

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