An email submission for #Lippie, from Robert S.
He had got there a good twenty minutes early. She had told him they should get a booth in the front, near the window. It had more character there, she had said, in that narrow space next to the bar. The booths were more intimate. They could talk, she had insisted, and the bar staff were close enough that you could order from the booth. He already had a Martini in front of him and had drunk most of it, another reason to get there early and get a drink ahead.
The bar had a French theme: Parisian posters on the walls, yellowing posters for Ricard and Dubonnet, and a lit sign for a Bar-Tabac propped in the corner by the door. The bar staff were young and tattooed, and he looked at his hands around his drink and felt old and weary.
Then, looking out of the window at the street, the sun setting behind the railway, silhouetting palm trees against the horizon, he started to have doubts. Why had she asked that they meet so early, in the last of the daylight, and asked him to sit near the window? She might want to take a look at him before she came in through the door. She might already have passed by and decided that the reality did not match the fantasies that they had shared.
It had taken him a long time to persuade her to meet. Each time he had suggested it she had been keen, but then cancelled on him.
I will share the fantasy but not the reality, she had written. I need to be open about my strength and my fragility.
Just one drink, he had replied, and finally she had agreed. He had let her choose the time and the venue,
He was nervous, and in her last email she had said that she was too. Beyond nervous, verging on terror, she had told him, and he had been surprised. They had been writing for two weeks, a torrent of emails and texts after that first tentative message on the website.
They had discussed the most intimate things, personal things: the failure of their marriages, the difficulties of balancing family and career, the difficulty of trying to develop a relationship in what little time they had left over. He had told her that he was simply unable to offer the commitment required to maintain a romantic relationship, which is why he had resorted to that particular website. She had agreed with him and their writing had moved on to their desires and fantasies, and now they were explicit in a way that he had never allowed himself to be before. He had found himself exploring the darker parts of his desires, and she had too. Now they were on the verge of that fantasy life crossing into reality.
I might not be what you expect, she had written. I’m not petite. I’m not a porn star with a hard body. I’m a middle aged working mother. I have flaws.’ But he had seen the photos. She had not lied to him. Voluptuous was the word she had chosen to describe herself and he discovered that he liked that, liked that she was a natural woman: no lies, no make up, no surgery, and no enhancements. He had read the thoughts and fantasies in her writing and he had liked them too.
He finished the last of his Martini and when he put down the glass and looked up, there she was. He hadn’t heard the door, so lost in his thoughts. He recognized her at once from her eyes. She was wearing little make-up, just eyeliner around her hazel eyes, which were wary below strong eyebrows. The only other make-up was dark red lipstick, which contrasted with her pale skin. Her narrow face was framed by tousled black hair that fell loose across her shoulders.
He found that he was staring at her, and had not spoken. He pulled himself off the bench and put a hand out towards her in greeting. She looked at his hand and the way he was half standing in the cramped booth, and smiled.
‘Hello,’ he said, an unexpected croak in his voice.
‘Hi,’ she said, her voice soft, and he realized it was the first time he had heard her speak. She took his hand lightly in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze as if in reassurance, and this was their first touch. He thought that he had not yet smelled her, and not tasted her.
He found his eyes wandering again. She wore a simple black dress, open at the neck showing cleavage, a tiny edge of red underwear visible on one side. She had told him that she liked lingerie. She had sent him photographs and he had stared at them. Even now he could recall each one, and compare them with the woman in front of him.
He was aware of the imbalance: the number of photos she has sent him of herself. He had only sent her one photo, a conventional portrait without a smile, professionally taken by a mate who was a photographer. Hers were selfies, the lighting poor and the focus indistinct. He liked that about them.
‘Can I get you a drink?’ he asked.
‘Just one,’ she said, and gave him a half-smile. She looked towards the bar and her eyes widened when they landed on the posters and she said: ‘Gin and Dubonnet, please.’
He was watching her lips move, remembering how she had told him how much she liked to kiss: how she enjoyed the give and take, and how it was the beginning and end of everything for her.
He broke his eyes away from her lips and looked towards the bar but the girl behind it had been watching and had heard the order. ‘Two,’ he mouthed at her and she nodded.
She let go of his hand and sat down, and as she bent her knees to slide into the booth he saw that the skirt of her dress was slit up one side. He caught a glimpse of a black stocking top against the curve of her hip and realized he was staring again, so he focused his gaze on her eyes.
He tried not to look down at the swell of her breasts, and not to think about what she had said about the sensitivity of her nipples. They were still staring at each other’s eyes, not speaking, when the girl put their drinks in front of them.
She lifted a hand to sweep her hair back, and he caught a glimpse of the nape of her neck, where pale skin glowed against her black hair. She lowered her hands to the table and wrapped them around her drink, her nails tapping against the glass. They were painted the same shade of red as her lipstick, almost the same colour as her cocktail.
I like to dig my nails into my lovers back,’ she had told him.
She looked nervous now, that first burst of bravado evaporating. He looked into her eyes again and she looked down at her drink and raised it to her lips and took a deep pull on it.
‘So,’ she said. ‘Does the reality live up to the fantasy?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You are exactly as I imagined you. What about me? You’ve only seen one photo.’
She shrugged. ‘It’s different for me. Your words are what attracted me. Plus, you didn’t try too hard to impress. I was worried that it might spoil it, us meeting. We couldn’t be as open with each other as when we were anonymous. I didn’t want reality to kill the fantasy.’
‘Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,’ he said, and he liked that it made her smile.
He saw her eyes soften, and he felt the connection they had made in their writing pass between them again across the table.
He stood up quickly, leaned across the table and kissed her. She resisted at first, her eyes open and darting sideways, aware of the public place. He put his hand behind her head and pulled her mouth towards his, and then he inhaled her, drank her in, and tasted her.