The string of curses grew longer in my head as I stared in dismay at the inkstains blotting my fresh trousers. Why had the pen chosen this moment, of all moments, to leak its blood subtly across my fingers, only to smear in gleeful darkness as I wiped my moist palms on the fronts of my thighs.
Nothing to be done now, I’d just have to go in looking like a complete dork. So much for making a good first impression.
It wasn’t a first impression really, though – we’d been in contact for a while now, reading each others daily posts, exchanging friendly messages in the comment boxes of each other’s blogs, then through email, then Facebook, and finally we’d exchanged phone numbers and arranged to meet up for ‘Coffee in Real Life’.
Our joke for the past few weeks, because this crossover – my happening to travel to within an hour of her home town, seemed like the perfect, serendipitous opportunity. And it was going to be wonderful – we’d discussed how we thought it would go, and we got on so well anyway, our emails trailing on and on, sharing every last part of our lives. Such good rapport, and across the internet as well, it was too good to be true – we *had* to meet up and grab the chance with both hands. A truly marvellous one-time offer.
This chance, I’d dreamed of, for how often do you get to meet your blog crush? Not that that’s even a real thing, I silently admonished myself – it’s all just internet stuff – *this* is a real thing. This is going to be amazing. That cool, confident woman who wrote so beautifully about her life, who’d befriended me and joined me in, was going to actually come and meet me.
But now I was here, regretting the decision to skip breakfast, anxiety gnawing at my insides, I felt it may have all been a horrible mistake.
With a sigh, I flung my bag over my shoulder (careful not to bash the camera – my husband’s old SLR – we were bound to need pictures) and exited the car, the sun-baked tarmac of the car park roasting my feet through the thin soles of my shoes. I hastily locked the car and scurried over to the diner where we’d arranged to meet. Nothing fancy, sadly, just a highway diner which was convenient for both of us.
The darkness beckoned me into a marginally cooler place. It seemed clean and the girl behind the counter pointed me to a seat and came to take my order “It’s okay, I’ll order in a moment – I’m waiting for someone.” She smiled and went back to her post.
And I sat, the heat seeping in from outside to prickle across my shoulders and face, waiting.
Cars zipped past on the highway outside, their windows tight shut, keeping the air-conditioned temperature firmly within. Small, faceless people going about their day at top speed. For fear of being late. Like she was.
Still no cars pulled into the lot.
The worry which had been gnawing at me now pooled in the pit of my stomach and I began to feel sick. What if she’d had an accident or been called away?
I checked my phone. Nothing.
What if she’d just changed her mind and no longer felt like meeting me?
A bead of sweat gathered under my right shoulder blade and trickled uncomfortably down my spine, disappearing into the scheuch of my arse. I shifted in my seat and tried to look nonchalant.
The cheap plastic of the bench was beginning to heat up under me, becoming uncomfortable. I rubbed my palms across my thighs again, watching as the waitress come back for another try.
“I’m still waiting” I told her with transparently fake perkiness “but I’d love a cold drink. Might you bring a jug of water with ice, please?”
Her smile froze, then slipped somewhat as she made a tiny note in her book and went to fetch the water. It was brought to the table wordlessly and I poured a glass, watching the ice-cubes slowly diminish. The clock on the wall, only five minutes forward from when I last checked, seemed to be taking malicious pleasure in moving as slowly as possible, each second stretching endlessly.
A fly buzzed against the glass outside with a small, fuzzy tone, indistinct against the traffic.
I found a handkerchief and wiped my sweat-beaded brow.
After what seemed a century, a minivan turned into the lot and parked. A woman got out and began walking towards the diner.
It was her!
My heart thudded against my chest and I gulped water to release the sudden glue which had taken over my mouth, dribbling some down my chin and into my lap in the process. Brushed my hair out of my eyes and tried to simultaneously unstick my top from my skin and wipe my hands on my legs again.
The door opened with a blast of hot air, and she stood, dazzled by the change in light, silhouetted by the tarmac’s reflection of the vicious sun.
I stood to greet her, lips trembling, wanting to break into a grin but too afraid.
She strode over and dumped her bag into the bench opposite me then turned to me “I’m so sorry I’m late.” she said, with half a laugh “my second boy rang me when I was halfway here and we had an argument about something he’s been trying to do.” Her accent took me by surprise. It was so alien to me! Her skin was darker than I remembered from the photos, but yes, she’d been on holiday – she’d done a post about that – I guess she caught the sun. Her hair was lighter too, and streaked with occasional silver I’d never noticed before.
I nodded and smiled tightly “It’s ok – these things happen. I, er, ordered some water, but I thought I’d wait for coffee til you got here.”
Her grin was expansive, bemused “Gosh, I wouldn’t have waited! You should have got on and had something! Still, shall we order now?”
I nodded my acquiescence and studied her discreetly. She was different than her photos. Bigger, obviously, but more vivid somehow. Her smile was the same one I’d grown to know, but it was no longer still and seemed to shine from within her, like the sun through broken clouds, lightening her speech and bringing her features to life. She was not beautiful, but over the course of our friendship, had become precious to me and I drank in her nearness.
She studied the menu and beckoned to the waitress, her movements gathered and precise, earthy somehow, and stunningly, unavoidably real. I caught a faint scent of perfume in the air as she wafted the cheap cardboard around to show the waitress which coffee she’d like.
I ordered in monotone, feeling clumsy and uncertain. The waitress, pleased to be working with paying customers was all smiles again, and stood chatting to her about the food options available, the weather, the year so far, and I envied their easy conversation.
I watched the waitress leave, then turned back, suddenly startled to catch her staring at me, quite unabashed.
“You’re very different from how I imagined you” she said lightly.
My lip twitched (but didn’t tremble) and I shrugged it off “Isn’t it always different when you meet someone in person, having only read them thus far?”
We laughed, but my attempt at humour and sophistication sounded hollow and clutzy. The gnawing in my stomach stepped up a notch.
The coffee came and she asked about my job, my husband and my house, and I enquired about her children, her garden and her hobbies. It was like the world’s worst interview, with strained silence between each stilted question – no statement leading into further conversation but each plonked down like finished products, impenetrable, unravellable. Stacking up between us like a wall.
After forty minutes, coffees well gone, she pulled out her phone, tapping away at the screen briefly before looking up at me regretfully “I’m so sorry, but I’m going to have to cut this short – my husband’s been trying to get hold of me – things are really kicking off at home with #2”
The backs of my eyelids prickled. “I completely understand. That’s fine. It’s been amazing to meet you after all this time, and a shame we couldn’t have more time to really chat and get to know one another in person. I’ve never done this before, and I was just so excited to meet you, I thought…I guess I didn’t really consider about how it might impact on your kids. Sorry”
Babbling. Why was I frikkin babbling? Make it stop!
She smiled widely, still friendly “Thanks for being so understanding. You’re a star. Shall we have a quick photo of us before I leave?” Phone in hand, camera already on, she slipped into the bench next to me and I slid along, ashamed of leaving a hot, damp space where I’d been sitting. I didn’t let her in too far but blocked her way. She swung a long, easy arm around my shoulders and brought her head close, looking up at the camera. She grinned and I tried, but there was no way the disappointment didn’t show up in my face.
I didn’t mention my clunky SLR, still tucked away in my bag. It was awkward, too large, too complicated and just wrong. *That’s* why people have smartphones, I admonished myself.
She picked up her bag and with a cheery wave, an awkward, arms-clashing, at-furthest-distance hug, she left, striding out once more into the shimmering heat.
I watched the minivan turn in the lot and leave, conscientious indicators on, pull out into a gap in the traffic, and disappear.
Standing to leave, I caught sight of the waitress, smirking. I shrank from her accurate assessment of me and ran, leaving money on the table to cover the whole debacle.
In the car, the prickling behind my eyes welled up and spilled down my face, mingling with the sweat and washing clear the absolute certainty in my mind – our friendship would never recover from this, and gradually, we’d recede from each other’s lives, from each other’s consciousnesses and become once more, unknown blogs in a vast internet.
This was a ‘Making You Feel‘ post
Now also a part of the: