Mystery and Merlot: Going In Blind
I stared tentatively into a pocket mirror at my bedraggled black curls and suspicious-looking bust lip. Eyeing the swollen skin, I ran my fingers across the jagged edges of the cut; wincing as I accidentally touched the sweet spot.
I walked into a door. Yes, I know how that sounds. But as embarrassing as it is, it’s true. There’s no bad situation to save me from, there is no toxic environment that I need to break out of, and I have been extremely single for the last three years. I have very much been living the safe life. Ironic with how clumsy I seem to be. It’s like my inner self is screaming, GO, do something, anything, we can’t wait around like this forever!
Today was going to change that. My best friend Julie, lamenting about my unwillingness to put myself out there, had dragged me unwillingly to a beach bar on the other side of town called Blu Lagoon to sign me up for a blind date event the following week.
MYSTERY AND MERLOT: Summer Love
It was an event which had been happening at the bar for around five years now. Each summer the theme was different as the company rallied round to, hopefully, regain some of the takings they’d fallen short on during the Spring season.
Nerves fizzled up inside of me as I got off a bus about a block away from the venue. Amongst the sticky heat which threatened to ruin my hair and the bustling city filled with hurried looking faces, it didn’t take long to see a small queue of folks in the same predicament I was starting to form outside of the establishment.
I watched them, trying to figure out who they were, what had driven them to come. They were tall, short, young, old, happy, anxious-looking, bored… I took a step towards the line, attempting to gauge the mood of the crowd. A few curious faces turned to look at me I hesitantly joined the end of the queue. They were, no doubt, wondering the same thing as me… If somebody in this line was their blind date; if I was that person, if they wanted me to be. All attendees had been given was the number of their table. Who would be there on the other side of it, was yet to be revealed.
I watched as a majestic seagull skimmed the surface of the sparkling ocean behind the Blu Lagoon; narrowly missing the snapping jaws of what looked to be some kind of shark! As the bird travelled out of my line of sight, my gaze came to rest on a person amongst the crowd forming inside the beach bar. I felt the wind knocked out of me, my heart skipping a beat as their eyes locked with mine. Their irises mimicked the colour of the ocean, and I felt momentarily as if I were being pulled into them as I saw their pupils dilate, their lips curling up into a kind smile. I almost didn’t notice myself moving forward in the line as I struggled to get a better glimpse of them through the throng of eager attendees.
“Name please,” came the polite but weary voice of a Front of House worker. He was dressed head to toe in black – the only pop of colour on his uniform being a small marigold flower pinned to his collar – I didn’t envy how hot he must be.
“Penelope Charlisa,” I responded quickly, trying to quell the butterflies running amuck in my stomach.
“Hmm,” came the voice. I felt my foot tapping in anticipation as he perused the checklist. “Table 33,” he smiled, waving me up a small flight of stairs leading to the entrance.
“Great, thanks!” I chirped.
I ignored the distinct sound of material ripping as I made a beeline for the door. “Damn it!” I yelled impulsively as my foot got caught in the tail end of my flowing dress and I fell on my face. Just another wound to add to the pack… A silence fell as people realised what had happened. Suddenly I was being helped to my feet. I glanced up to meet those same ocean eyes, a cool turquoise in colour with flecks of orange sprinkled across the irises, enveloping me in their gaze. She was wearing a crisp white blouse and a sleek black skirt which accentuated the lines of her silhouette. Her soft blonde locks fell effortlessly over her shoulders and her face was friendly as she asked if I was okay. My eyes fell to a small metal pin on the side of her shirt that read Isabelle and my heart unexpectedly sank a little. The woman worked at the Blu Lagoon; she was essentially being paid to be nice to me.
Before I had the chance to respond, a mildly irritated looking man stepped between us. He ignored me, turning indignantly to focus on Isabelle. “Excuse me, my table is filthy, can you or someone else that works here stop dilly-dallying and clean it?”
The blonde woman blinked rapidly, not knowing how to respond to the sudden outburst of aggression. However, knowing that informing the man that she was actually in the middle of something wouldn’t do her any favours, she glanced over apologetically at me before leading him away.
I was once again on my own. The bar was slowly filling up as I searched for my table. The interior felt very bohemian. Decorated in blues and whites with patterned cushions, homemade pottery and rustic wooden seating, the place seemed to set out aesthetically to emulate that of an old Arabic beachside home. The current music negated that observation though. I squinted, focusing on the signage placed strategically around the room. Noticing that the tables appeared to be cordoned off into groups of tens, I ambled over to the cluster of ‘thirties’ in the far left-hand corner.
30… 31… 32… I paused as I saw a pair of brown Loafers already parked underneath what would be my table. My gaze travelled up tanned calves, past expensive-looking red shorts, a flashy gold Rolex and a white polo shirt, to a familiar face. I struggled to hide my shock as I stared at the man who had just interrupted me to tell off the blonde woman mere moments ago, splayed out across our table with a glass of prosecco. Before I could reasonably walk away, he noticed me.
“Hey! You’re the chick who took a dive up those stairs! That desperate, are you?” he chuckled to a joke only he found funny. I didn’t know how to respond so I didn’t. He ran his hands through perfectly messy dark hair as we languished in an awkward silence. “Sorry, that was rude,” he acknowledged standing and holding out his hand to shake. “My name’s Timothy,” he offered.
“Penelope,” I replied taking his hand. Perhaps this wouldn’t be too bad, I thought sitting down. His eyes scanned over my body before coming back up to meet my face. He winced slightly as he stared at the swelling on my lower lip.
“Those stairs sure did a number on you huh?” he said.
I laughed it off, hoping that if I appeased him just this once, he would stop talking about it and I would stop wanting to hide under the table. At this very moment, I honestly think that I would feel better curled up on the sofa with a slice of chocolate cake. Relief washed over me as I spotted a waitress making their way over to us.
“Hello!! I’m Isabelle…” she started before pausing as she recognised me.
My heart sped up. It’s HER! What are the odds?
“Oh, you came together, what a lovely pair you both make,” she commented, shall I say, professionally?
“Actually, I think we’re both here for the blind date right?” I said hurriedly. I didn’t know why I felt the need to correct her. The blonde woman held my gaze for a second too long. Was I imagining things, or did I see a glimmer of delight flash across her face just a moment ago?
“Okay… cool,” Isabelle responded finally. She glanced over at Timothy swigging his prosecco then back at me. “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked with a grin. My voice got caught in my throat as I struggled to get a solid grasp of the menus, the laminate slipping through my fingers. “Would you like a few suggestions?” she queried, noticing the trouble I was having. I nodded.
Isabelle moved closer, leaning over my shoulder. Her hair brushed against mine, tickling my face as she ran her finger down the drinks list in front of me. I felt my cheeks flush as I breathed in her scent; it was a sweet mixture of Jasmine flowers and Geranium.
“There is the Cabernet Sauvignon… No, actually, try the Merlot! It’s aged in oak and has notes of dark fruit in the blend which just tastes marvellous. Plus, our theme is Mystery and Merlot; you know we’ve got the good stuff in!” she laughed.
“Sure,” I agreed softly.
A throat cleared, breaking the moment, and I looked over to see Timothy staring at me expectantly. “Sorry, please tell me about yourself,” I prompted him slightly guiltily. As it turned out, he hadn’t needed much prompting. I really did try to listen to him. It’s just that when he mentioned the yacht he was going to inherit for the third time, my attention began to shift elsewhere.
Excitement bubbled up inside of me as I noticed a dark bottle being brought over to the table. “Would you like to try it?” Isabelle called out, reappearing with a bottle opener.
Timothy’s words began to fade into the background as silky red liquid tumbled into my glass.
The action became almost sensual and I felt the blonde woman’s eyes on me as I sipped it slowly. I closed my eyes, tasting vanilla, cedar, plum, black cherry... It was exquisite. She was exquisite. And I didn’t even know if I’d crossed her mind.
The afternoon would roll on in much of the same vein. Music would play, food would be brought out, and Timothy would complain; not really seeming to care if I shared his opinion or not. For me, it was a day of agony. Filled with stolen glances, abject longing and countless occurrences of self-doubt. I finished the event knowing more about Isabelle’s life than Timothy’s and we hadn’t even been formally introduced! It felt odd, at the end of it all, to be in exactly the same situation I’d started in before I’d arrived.
I made my way towards the exit, trying not to seem too disappointed. It felt like magic that was coming to an end, a dream I was about to wake up from. I stopped in my tracks as I heard someone call out to me. My thoughts raced as I braced myself, wondering what I would do if it was her.
“You forgot your receipt,” the person I’d seen earlier working at Front of House smiled at me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled despondently, slipping through the exit and starting to make my way – carefully – down the stairs. Screwing up the piece of paper, I made to throw it in the bin. Curiosity made me open it instead. I furrowed my brows at the rather long number on the bill. I was sure neither of us had paid that much. My eyes widened in surprise, landing on a scrawled note at the bottom that I hadn’t seen before. It couldn’t be?
Call me on this number if you want to continue from where we left off. Signed – your waitress from Table 33 x
I felt a familiar feeling of excitement bubble up inside of me as I stared down at the strip of paper. It would appear, that perhaps things were about to change after all.