The hot water felt incredible. First hitting my scalp, the water running over my hair, a rush of warmth felt all down my back. Sighing out loud, I marveled at how this could possibly be the best shower I’d ever, ever had in my life- in all my 34 years of showering? My mind contorted into numbers, trying to work out that answer - but mathematics had never been my forte. Inwardly rolling my eyes at myself and my overthinking, I turned to face the other wall and just immerse myself in the moment.
I lathered body wash all over my arms, remembering the night that was. Torrents of hot water covered my body in goosebumps, under a veil of soapy skin and plumes of steam, and trying to steady wobbly legs, I closed my eyes and I was right there again…
You were sitting at the dimly lit bar dressed in blue. Blue jeans, shoulders wide in a navy shirt… dark wavy hair, so perfectly in place. I had breathed out a little, the nerves and anticipation of seeing you had almost overwhelmed me in the short cab ride to then. I realized that 10 minutes of shallow breathing had left me feeling dizzy. I drew a sharp breath in. You glanced around, perhaps looking for me, so I’d instinctively taken a furtive step left, crouching, mercifully hiding most of my body behind the potted plant inside the door.
‘Are you ok down there?’ a voice gently asked. Blood rushed to my cheeks as I looked up. An older gentleman, with grey tinged stubble was standing there in a black suit jacket, quizzically looking at me, with a hint of a smile.
‘Oh! Yes, yes I’m fine!’ I answered far too quickly to be believable, standing upright and smoothing my skirt nervously down over my thighs with sweaty palms. I looked into his eyes mortified.
‘Good to hear young lady. I thought for a moment you may have been hiding from someone?’ he said cheekily with a wide smile.
Giggling in embarrassment I replied jokingly ‘Oh no! I mean, yes, yes… I was uh.. avoiding paying my bar tab- I thought I might just get it away with it- but you blew my cover!’
He laughed in appreciation of my lame joke and said, ‘Well my dear- I wish you the best of luck with that. I’ve been coming here for years and it hasn’t worked for me yet!’
Smiling warmly, he patted my shoulder as he walked away through the sea of tall tables and people talking animatedly in the room. I stood there, watching him navigate his way around the tables, smiling at the patrons, trying to gather myself together again.
You were upstanding at the bar now. The man in the photo, turning to face the door, drink in hand, it was then we saw each other. All the white noise dissipated in that moment. I hoped it wasn’t just my imagination, but it looked like you were happy to see me, and your smile nearly made me turn for the pot plant again; it was so radiant. Long legs in blue jeans started striding toward me.
‘OMG! Did he see me hiding!? Get a freaking grip woman… how old are you, like 12!? What am I doing, he looks happy to see you…? He looks like a normal guy, definitely not a mass murderer! Just move Ellen… one step after the other… go!”
My inner had critic started. Followed by my inner cheerleader and life coach, exasperatedly coaxing me to move away from the front door and toward the first date I’d had in what felt like forever. A few years really… but a long time out of the saddle and I was clearly out of my comfort zone. Suddenly longing for my Oodie, my lumpy old couch and any old show on Netflix instead – I could feel my heart racing and beads of sweat forming above my lip.
But still you walked. Confidently towards me. ‘Damn it’ I thought.
Deer in the headlights stuff - I was trapped. I thought I might not breath and fall over. Where was my new friend, the older gentleman when I needed him? I could really do with a support person, I thought then ruefully.
‘Ellen? It’s so lovely to see you! I thought maybe I’d been stood up?’ you had said teasingly in your deep velvet voice, with that smile of yours, reaching for my hand. My sweaty shaky hand.
I laughed in reply and said ‘Oh gosh no! Not at all! My apologies for being a little late, I…. uh..’ but trailed off without having any valid excuse, the limited choices being my newfound love of horticulture or just being ridiculously nervous, just didn’t seem enough right then.
So, I smiled. ‘I’ve been really looking forward to tonight’, I had said instead. Truthfully, I had been; all those pesky nerves aside. For almost 3 years, I had been as single as a pringle, my life full, happy on my own whilst just not feeling ready to be in a relationship again. Not even ready to date again to be honest. Some soul searching and healing and been required, and my busy life with work and friends had taken priority.
Sienna had been talking you up to me for months… encouraging us to meet for a coffee or a drink. ‘James is great Ellen! You’ll love him… he’s cute, he’s funny, he’s perfect for you…’ blah blah and blah. I’d resisted her for so long- and then, I had relented. It came as much to her surprise as my own actually. I honestly think it was the Covid19 lockdown that had finally defeated me. I agreed to her request of going out; going outside… hell, even me going outside my comfort zone, et all.
Now standing there, looking into your familiar green eyes, thanks to a well-worn photo in my handbag, I suddenly felt a little more at ease. And a lot less sweaty.
Still holding my hand, you said with a grin, ‘Me too Ellen. Come on- let’s find our table, I have one booked at the front, near the piano’. You leading the way, I followed dutifully, feeling your strong hand in mine, all the while hearing my inner cheerleader go 'whoop whoop’ in my brain. ‘Go girl- you’ve got this!’ I fervently wished she’d put those pom poms down. And I could turn my overthinking brain off for just this date. Insert another eye roll.
You pulled out the timber chair for me and sat in the one adjacent. Deftly pushing the light in the center of the table- calling for a waiter, you reached across for the wine list and turned to me saying,
‘Uh ok Ellen, I need to be honest with you. I feel like we should start with the obvious; I have actually been a bit nervous about meeting with you tonight.’ You took a deep breath and continued, ‘Sienna has been relentless- she has assured me you are someone I should get to know. I guess it's because I’ve never been set up on a blind date before, this is seriously all new territory for me tonight to be honest….’ Your eyes searched mine, trying to read me, before looking down and away, skimming the wine list in the pause.
I had melted a little into the mahogany then.
'What now?’ I’d thought to myself, not realizing you may have been just as nervous as I was going through with a random date, by our enthusiastic mutual friend.
Immediately, I could feel the nerves leave my body, only just keeping my mascara in check lest those little salty tears fell out in my relief at his own candor. I replied, ‘I hear you. Wow. Thank you for sharing and for being the brave one to break the ice here… Honestly, tonight is so far out of my comfort zone too’. You smiled at me then.
‘James, uh, I also have a confession- I may, or may not have been hiding in that makeshift jungle at the front door earlier tonight, when you were at the bar.’ Turning to point at the door- ‘but was sprung by someone walking in!’ I laughed loudly now at remembering how awkward it was. ‘I was just so… um really, really nervous to meet you too, it’s been a long time between drinks for me to be honest. I’m out of practice…. ' We had both laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of a person hiding behind a pot plant.
And just like that, the elephant in the room, was corralled and tamed. We looked at each other grinning happily like 2 little kids in a lolly shop.
The light from the table was turned off and we looked up to see the patient wait staff standing at our table.
Clearing your throat, you asked, ‘So, what would you like to drink Ellen?’ holding the wine list between us.
‘Uh.. I’m not sure’ I replied, a little overwhelmed by the choices, the build-up to the evening this far and the waiter appearing so quickly.
‘Do you like wine? I feel like it’s a wine night- we are in an underground piano bar after all,’’ you quipped.
‘Sounds great to me… but I’m a bit of wine novice to be honest. My go-to is usually white and wet,’ I had joked, ‘but seriously, any of the colors are fine by me. I’m open to try to new things tonight- blind date style’, I had said cheekily, rambling bravely but secretly wishing I had brushed up on my sommelier knowledge before tonight.
‘Hmmmm, you’re not giving me much to work with here Miss Ellen’ you had cheekily admonished me. ‘I’ll need some more information from you….’
Laughing, I’d replied ‘Surprise me!? I trust your judgement, certainly more than mine on this subject’.
‘Merlot it is then’, you had knowingly proclaimed, ‘the first and best place to start on your new red adventure!’
Your finger tracing the menu down the page, it rested on a bottle of the listing of New Zealand Church Road, Mc Donald Series. An agreed upon antipasto platter and sparkling water swiftly followed.
The piano started then, making us move our chairs closer together to hear each other over the music. Intimately, almost hesitatingly at first, we talked over our stemless glasses; trading sips of delicious deep plum flavours of wine with mouthfuls of cheese each. The conversation and laughs were as long as they were deep. Much like our bottle of red.
I learnt that night you were somewhat of a wine connoisseur, the love of your family and friends; your day job in Finance but your passion was outside by the sea; kite-surfing and fishing, and heard about your dreams of future travel adventures. You also, had been healing from a pear-shaped relationship, but felt like it was time to get back into the real world. We laughed together at our beautiful friend Sienna and in her managing to eventually set us up- and joked about perhaps she had found her niche job with her unrivalled match making skills.
Swept away a little in the moment, a few hours into a second bottle of red, I looked at you over my refilled glass, and felt… well, I felt for the first time in a long time. At ease in myself; at peace - like finding a little piece of home. So grateful I had ventured out of my comfort zone and away from the couch, and also the palm tree at the door, into a new adventure. Sharing in the humour, the joy in every sensation- each-others company, the music and the flavours on our little table, I wondered then if every blind date went as well as this- or had I alone just won the lottery feels?
Van Morrison's ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ started playing in the background then, a favourite song on my Spotify playlist, and I had looked over toward the piano. A familiar face smiled back from behind the keys- it was my front door friend. I smiled broadly in return, raising my glass of merlot to acknowledge him in gratitude.