I sat on a bar stool, my blonde, hair-sprayed hair falling into my eyes, feeling slightly swimmy from my fourth gin and tonic.
The lights were dim. Cabaret music swirled, and flashes of nipples, sequins, and chest hair were intermittently visible when I glanced up through my mascara-ed eyelashes.
I wasn’t watching the cabaret. Instead, I was scribbling on a small slip of paper.
It was a ‘flirt slip’, placed there by the party staff to facilitate the attendees making… connections with one another. Very kind. I had never used one before. It had taken me quite a while to even realise they were there and pick one up.
“Hmm. Let’s have a look…” said the handsome man next to me, peering over my shoulder.
It wasn’t totally rude or anything. We’d been making polite chit-chat a little while ago and established a friendly rapport, which is why we were now sharing a small bar table. His partner was sitting opposite us both; she had a loud shrill laugh, and bright red lipstick. I was vaguely aware of her watching me painfully concentrating on channeling my wonderful personality and sensual desirability on the small, pink slip of paper.
I let the man lean past my shoulder and read what I had written.
The pink slip now said:
You’re cute. Come and have a drink with me?
I added my name at the bottom. Considered adding a smiley face, but decided No. That’s dumb.
I mean, it’s already dumb.
The note was in lurid purple felt-tip, which was all I could find on the table. I didn’t have another pen on me, not totally unexpectedly, at this queer, vintage-costume sex-party. (Actually I didn’t even have a handbag on me). The whole note thing did all feel a bit primary school, though.
My nerves intensified as the handsome man and I gazed down together at my sad little pink slip, music pounding in our ears. His partner swivelled in her chair, bored of us, watching the cabaret.
As I looked at the flirt slip, I thought about:
- How many times I’d been rejected recently
- The insecurities I felt about my percieved value as a sexual or romantic partner to other women
- Whether I seemed ‘queer enough’ for the party (I had come with my cis male boyfriend)
- Other ways I’d been rejected not so recently
- The way parts of my body look without clothes hiding them
- The clumsy way I’d introduced myself to the woman I was about to hand the slip to, earlier.
- The expression that flitted across her face, as I gibbered rubbish about the hotel we were staying in. (She’d seemed..bemused by me. By my conversation, by my laughter, by my very presence next to her. My lack of ability to read her properly, made me so nervous I’d excused myself very early on in the conversation, despite wanting very much to stay near her, and I hadn’t seen her an a couple of hours.)
I was determined to make a proper attempt to connect with her.
Because …I knew I was already going to have a drop after this party.
The drop. Where I beat myself up for anything and everything. Examined all my failures; the stupid things I said, the emotional reactions I couldn’t well control; the opportunities I missed. Where I told myself I wasn’t good enough. Blah, blah, blah. It becomes inevitable, and is partly down to the lack of sleep and the chemical reactions from the alcohol I consume to keep anxiety at bay.
I guess I might as well give myself a specific, concrete, non-deniable failure to chew on. Make the whole thing worth it. Right?
The handsome man next to me looked up from the slip of paper. He raised his eyebrows, looked me in the eyes, and smiled at me crookedly.
“I’m interested to see who you’re going to give this to.”
For a fleeting second, I worried that maybe he thought I was going to give the slip of paper to him. That’s awkward, I thought. Maybe I should explain myself first, so that he wasn’t offended when I- instead- walked over and handed it to the brunette woman in the corner.
The tall woman, with the American accent, the quiet air of intelligence, and the dramatic eye-makeup.
The one that I’d been checking out all night.
I was hanging on her every movement, but far too nervous to talk to her.
I dismissed the idea of the pre-briefing. I had enough awkward feelings of my own to manage, without managing someone else’s. He can cope, I thought. And it’s pretty unlikely he wants to hook up with you anyway. He’s kind of out of your league, plus you’ve only said a few words to each other.
Instead, I slid off the bar stool, before I could lose my nerve.
Walked, in my high black heels, over to the brunette woman. (A bit too quick, that walk. Not exactly casual and chill. More like ‘There’s an urgent phone call for you, Chief Superintendent’.)
Soon, I was behind her. Her long legs widened into sexy, solid hips which were coated in a loose black jumpsuit. Kinda understated. She’d come to this louche, hedonistic party pretty covered up- kind of modestly dressed, almost, which I found intriguing.
I tapped her on the shoulder. Too lightly- she hadn’t noticed. The bar was full and people were knocking into each other all over the place.
I tapped again, a bit harder.
Brought the slip of paper up in front of me, ready to say something, and…
I’d thought she’d been free to talk…(having only been able to see half of the bar from where I was sitting with Handsome Man).
But even as I moved to push the note into her hand, my face frozen into a hopeful smile, I realised she was mid-animated conversation with another person. I was, actually, being really rude; pushing myself in between them, though I hadn’t realised until this second. What do I do? Abort! Abort!
Her conversational partner, a guy, looked at me over her shoulder, slightly surprised at my sudden appearance.
Her head was about to turn in my direction.
Her hand, meanwhile, was moving towards me. Confused, and unable to halt the movement, I pushed the paper slip into her hand, before she even had a chance to look down and see it.
But I was interrupting. I could not interrupt. I have to leave!
I abandoned the paper slip, and rapidly retreated away from her small group, back the way I had come.
I moved so fast, it was a bit like one of those retractable tape measures when you push the button. SSSCCHHHHHHLLLLLLPPPP. There I go!
At the same time, crowds of people pushed between us, and by the time she was reading the note and scanning the room with a confused expression, I had scuttled right back into my chair at the bar table.
I grabbed my drink, and downed half of it in confusion.
Both the handsome man and his red-lipped partner were watching me, drinks in hand, with a mixture of pity and amusement.
Finally, I turned back around to survey the aftermath. I half thought she’d be pointing and laughing at me. OK. Nothing terrible happened. She’s just carried on talking.
Her dark head, facing away from me, suddenly swung around. I saw her dramatic makeup again, as her eyes panned over mine. Locked for a second.It would have been the exact moment to smile at her.
Open my eyes, my heart, my body to the possibilities of the evening.
Instead, I dropped my eyes to the table, and kept them there until my heart stopped beating. Shit. Maybe she’ll come over.
I wasn’t brave enough to bridge the gap. But I hoped, hoped so much, that she would.
You know how you can feel someone’s eyes on you?
Well, it turns out that you can just as easily feel the moment when their eyes leave you. When their interest in you has waned.
I took a sip of my drink.
“She didn’t even see you”. said the handsome man. “She had no idea it was you who gave her that note! You should have tried to talk to her.”
“Yeah. I know.” I said. “It was terrible.” I laughed ruefully. That’s why I find these parties so hard. I just… don’t really know how to talk to people, how to bridge that gap.”
“Well. This is my first one.” he said, quietly, and gave me a sweet smile. “It’s good to see that someone else feels as anxious as I do. Well done for trying, though. That was brave.”
“Thanks”. I said.
We sat together, finishing our drinks.
I felt a sense of safety in his company. He had seen me be vulnerable, be humiliated, and he hadn’t run away. He seemed kind. I wished I wanted more to fuck him. But I didn’t.
A little pool of light touched us both. As I tipped back the last of my drink, I saw he had a small, black tear-drop painted on his lightly stubbled cheek, just below the eye.
For some reason, it made me a little sad to think of him drawing it carefully on, breathing slowly to keep his hand steady. Perhaps while his partner sat on the bed, pulling her stockings on and applying her bright red lipstick.
I thought of myself, in my hotel room, plucking my eyebrows, wincing occasionally. All of us, preparing ourselves.. and for what? How can you possibly prepare, in a hotel room, for what you will actually be doing….trying to magic up intimacy out of nowhere with a total stranger?
I stood up. He stood up. We hugged goodbye. His partner was already gone, laughing and drinking with someone else.
Each of us pasted a smile on our faces, and melted away into the crowds of sparkle and hush, trying to find a place to be.