She hurried along the street, furiously checking her Google Maps to make sure she was on the right path – even though by now she knew exactly where she was going. She crossed the river Liffey via the romantically lighted Ha’penny bridge. A guitarist serenaded by-walkers near the Mercantile Arch; she was in the middle of Temple Bar, surrounded by drunk tourists and Dubliners alike before she knew it, but she artfully maneuvered around all of them. Before she realized what was happening, Trinity College loomed over her. Her heart pounded as she kept checking her phone for his messages: he was already there. Would she recognize him? Why was she so excited and nervous? She had been on these dates before. Bar for one occasion, she had never felt this way before.
She looked behind her, her friends long lost while she rushed through the city. The eyesight was a bit blurry from the gin & tonics and for the fact that her glasses were at the bottom of her bag. Yet she rushed in ahead, only stopping for a brief second when she reached the top of Grafton Street. There he was.
He wore a navy coat and blue washed jeans. His hair was styled in that typical Dublin fashion – a gradient cut on the sides, longer and swept to one side at the top. He looked like James Dean, the way he was leaning. As he saw her, he removed his earplugs, stowed away his phone and walked toward her.
How was she supposed to greet him? She lost all common sense – the little she had to begin with. But that was nothing to worry about as he pulled her into a hug as soon as they got close to one another: “that’s the hug you promised me.”
The Porterhouse was busy for a Wednesday night but they managed to find a spot big enough for 2.
They talked over a few pints of whatever craft beer Paris had picked. Ellie tried to seem sober but given the amount of drinks she had had before with Camila she was sure her eyes were glossy. She probably did that thing drunk people do: enunciate words too much in an effort to sound sober, or at least just tipsy.
Paris was surprisingly open about his life. Was it her or did he also have a few before meeting her? She hoped it was her because she felt comfortable with him. Maybe it was the alcohol though. She couldn’t help stare at him; her body was leaned towards him, she was practically laying on the table. Paris was well-spoken, his accent a soft Irish betraying his south side. She loved listening to his voice. He could have been talking about shitting and she would have still drank it all in.
It must have happened during one of those moments when she stared at him in wonder. Could he feel her lust? Did he see her undress him with her eyes? Was he undressing her with his eyes? He seemed to get closer to her, she naturally pulled in closer.
His lips were on hers. She almost pulled away in surprise, but instead she pulled in for more. It isn’t often your mouth matches well with another one from the first kiss. Maybe she was just drunk and couldn’t tell good from bad. Was she being sloppy? She hoped he wouldn’t pull away with her saliva all over his face.
They broke away – no saliva perceptible on his face – and Ellie asked: “what was that for?”
Thankfully he chuckled, “I don’t know, you were there.”
After that he excused himself to the bathroom. She hoped the bathroom didn’t have windows that led outside and he wasn’t actually thinking about making a beeline for the first exit. Her eyes followed him, unknowingly smiling.
The place seemed more cheerful, it was warmer. Before she could help herself, she messaged Camila: “He just kissed me. I have butterflies. I’m a hoe in love.” Her phone was back in her purse as he sat in front of her.
It was a bit past midnight when they stepped back out in the crisp air, however still warm for December.
“Umm I’m probably going to cab home. Where do you live? Maybe we can share one?” Ellie asked as she pointed at a cab line.
“I think we live on opposite sides.”
“Oh.” She looked up at him – quite literally as he was considerably taller than her and everyone else. The way he smiled… He was perfect. “Well what if you just slept over at mine?”
His face told her he was as surprised by the offer as she was.
“I mean,” she stuttered, “the Luas is closed. And I’m already taking a cab. So you could just take the Luas tomorrow, you know. Not spend money uselessly.”
“Are you sure about this?” He asked as he followed behind her stumbling steps towards a taxi car.
“Mhmm. Don’t worry, there’ll be no funny business. Don’t imagine anything” she wiggled a finger in his face, “Seriously” as she slipped into the car.
It was around 1am when they finally got to her apartment. They walked into the kitchen silently. Camila, a glass of wine in one hand, her phone in the other. “Aha! Here you are finally! Do you know how worried I was? Why didn’t you answer your phone!”
Ellie stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh I’m sorry, my phone ran out of battery soon after…”
Camila kept staring straight behind her, then making eye contact with Ellie, expecting something she couldn’t quite catch. She felt Paris move behind her.
“Oh right! Camila, here’s Paris. Paris, Camila. Umm yeah. I need to use the washroom. Make friends.”
She torpedoed out of there into the bathroom.
The water was cool against her face, a much needed rest from the night.
Looking at herself in the mirror, she considered not removing her makeup. The smell of her cleanser and the slight facial massage she gave herself sobered her just enough to freak out about what she had done and the man that now stood in her kitchen. The implications and expectations of her actions doomed on her, as she stood in the bathroom in her unicorn pyjamas: she did not want to have sex with Paris. At least, not that night. She wanted to sleep comfortably, by herself and get rid of her hangover she was to nurture a few hours later. But what could she do now?
Gathering her composure, or rather building it, she left the bathroom and entered the kitchen where Camila and Paris, still standing, were still talking. Her roommate excused herself immediately.
“Do you want tea?” she asked shyly.
He shook his head, “nice pj’s.”
“Fall/Winter 2016 Fashion,” Ellie twirled, and almost lost her balance. “Well in that case, I hope you don’t mind but I actually really need to sleep. Work in the morning.”
She hoped she didn’t sound aloof. The excuse was completely understandable.
Technically, the couch in the living room was comfortable and big enough to fit any person – even one as tall as Paris. Lonán often slept there. She toyed with the idea of setting up a bed there, yet she had an inkling if she offered the couch, she would never see him again.
This time, Paris nodded. She pointed, “uh my room is over there...” and she led him out of the kitchen. “The bathroom is over there. And, my room.”
“I’ll be right in.” He dipped to the bathroom for too short a time for Ellie to calm her nerves.
Silently, he walked in, Ellie’s eyes hawking each of his movements; he carefully put his jacket on the back of the chair. He unbuckled his belt.
Everything was in slow-motion. His right hand tugged at one end of his belt and slid it out. For one split second, Ellie imagined him slapping her with it. They hadn’t settled on a safe word, she wasn’t at all prepared for that. She looked at the belt ondulate in the air, so close to her face. Maybe he was a serial killer. She didn’t know him at all.
Paris laid the belt on top of his jacket on the chair once more. He turned and locked eyes with her.
“Right.” He finally said. Ellie looked down at his jeans. Was he planning on sleeping in them?
“Right,” she answered and motioned the bed. “Bed.” He slipped under the blankets, laid on his back and stared at the ceiling. He turned his head to her.
“Lights,” she proclaimed as if the simple word would turn them off. She reached out to her bedside lamp and plunged the room into darkness. Not seeing him made it more pleasant, she could imagine she was alone in a single bed. As she settled comfortably, Paris shuffled. The illusion was shattered. He took his jeans off and plopped them onto the floor. Ellie almost laughed at loud.
“Well, good night.” She finally whispered.
She turned on her right side, back to him and, in that drunken stupor, fell asleep immediately. When Paris seemingly mustered the courage to scoot over and spoon her, Ellie awoke with panic. All the muscles of her body became rigid with anxiety. What had been comfortable became pure discomfort. She was self-conscious about the position of her limbs and her movements.
The alcohol this time did not induce the sleep she so desperately wanted to fast forward to the morning.
When dawn finally came, Ellie awoke in the same position. Paris had moved away naturally during the night but was still in her comfort zone. With a lot of care to be completely silent, she got out of bed, and gathered everything she needed. Back in the bathroom, she stared in the mirror, seeing herself last night. As a result of these actions she deemed less savoury, in an attempt to restore her professional image, she had worn a very formal, executive outfit.
One slight knock followed by a louder one announced Lonán. On the other side of the door, he stared at her smugly. “Oh shut up.” She pushed him aside and entered the kitchen.
When Paris walked into the kitchen, jeans back on, she had already eaten and had had the time to process the night twice. The news were being announced on the morning show: a mix of Syria, Brexit, the French presidential election and OPEC. Ellie was particularly interested that morning.
“Good morning! Do you want coffee?”
The way he rubbed his eyes with both hands reminded her of Alex’ baby daughter when she was really tired but didn't want to sleep. She knew he needed the big cup she was handing him.
“Umm do you want food? Cereal? Yogourt? Fruits?”
“No, I’m not hungry, thank you.” His tone of voice was changed – everything about him seemed quieter. Even the way he stood, whereas he was tall and proud the night before, he didn’t take as much space now. Ellie attributed it to the hangover. He sat across the table in front of her, hunched over his phone. He scrolled through a bit before looking up at her sheepishly. “What’s your address actually?”
With a groan he pushed his phone on the table. “I forgot the damn Luas is on strike today.”
“It’s not running at all?” He nodded. That was the weirdest thing Ellie had heard of all day and she had already gone through the actuality section of the news.
“So they’re going to leave people stranded?”
“Pretty much. The buses are still running. Got to go to city center to get the one I need.” He leaned back on the chair with such a long sigh, it made Ellie feel bad. The need to make things better for him took over. That, and the idea of spending more time with him was not unpleasant.
“Well it’s not that long of a walk, and it’s nice out today. Do you want to walk over together? It’s also on my way to work.”
“If you want, yeah.”
She got up, put her dishes in the sink. “We should get going then. You sure you don’t mind? You’re not one of those people who like to walk alone and not talk to others?”
Their coats were on, her work bag hung on her shoulder.
“It’s up to you, really.”
She didn’t know whether that meant he wanted to walk with her or not. But she wanted to, so she stopped asking herself questions. The Luas not working was a weird fact of Dublin life that fit her quite well that day.
All awkwardness from the night before vanished as they walked, side by side, down the sunny streets of Dublin, exchanging stories. The last time Elena had been that giddy on a first date had been with Jason, but on that day with Paris, her ex-boyfriend was kilometers away from her mind for once.
They were on the South side of O’Connell bridge where they were to part ways. As he stood in front of her, she realized it was time to say goodbye. All of a sudden, nervousness crept in. Her palms started to sweat. How were they supposed to part ways? What gesture was appropriate? Was she supposed to kiss him goodbye considering they had kissed the night before at the bar, albeit drunk? Just a hug then? What if he hated her? A handshake then. Before she could control herself and notice that Paris was in fact leaning in for a kiss, she raised her arms to his shoulders and screeched: “I don’t know what to do!”
Could someone punch her in the face?
Thankfully Paris chuckled. Hands on her cheeks, he lightly kissed her forehead.
“Have a good day,” He whispered. Elena almost died. Had he actually just dealt with her awkwardness?
“You too. Text me when you finally get home.”
Mortified, she turned and crossed the street. How many people had seen her screech like that?
More importantly, their first official date was scheduled for that evening and they had not talked about it at all.