Short story by Larne Writer’s Group member TN Jobling

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FIRST TIMER by TN JOBLING

Darren is in the bathroom – has been there for over an hour. It’s gone six-thirty. The gap between the frame and a poorly fitted door is witness to a steady outpouring of illuminated steam, which is in turn fighting for supremacy against a cacophony of decibel charged, nail-scratching, toneless lyrics: “The first time ever I saw your face I ... .”

Finally, and to the relief of the family below, he is showered. He is wrinkled and he is clean; Pears clean. But he wonders, Perhaps a bit too clean? A bit smelly? Girly smelly?

Probing the wall-hung mirrored cabinet, which hovers over a cracked sink, Darren homes in on its precious contents. A veritable treasure chest of male potions, not least big brother’s man-sized ‘Lynx Excite’ body spray, which he steals into action.

“Yeah, that’ll do the job. Spray it on,” he says while thinking to himself - All over, and a double doze for the hairy bits. Maybe another shot; just to be sure.

His spot squeezing ritual signals the start of the endgame; the styling of his wet hair assisted by a party sized dollop of gel, the completion. Then a final proclamation to a misty reflection agrees.

“Darren, you’re one good lookin’ guy.” As he picks up on the song again, his worries resurface: Hope she turns up? Ah she will. Will she?

Bounding from bathroom to bedroom - towel adrift – Darren is in full flight. The only thought which remains in his head is that of seeing her tonight. He closes his door with a well practiced foot action. The dressing operation commences: pants, socks...

Tentatively Darren approaches the hotel’s revolving door. Pausing in the foyer he searches for a friendly face within the seasonal throng. Shoulders straightened he fiddles with his narrow black tie and with a swagger enters the domain of his first office party. Using every inch of his six foot something frame he casts a further searching eye, this time across the revellers. Darren has only one face to find. Oh God, she’s here. She’s over there! She’s

waving. At me? She’s waving to me, she is!

‘Jeez ,what do I do now?’ he asks aloud.

‘Sorry? What-? ’A bespectacled girl of similar height sends him a quizzical glance.

His spasm of indecision inflicts a foreboding of vulnerability. Shoulders drooped, he thinks fast: I mean it’s not like we have a firm date or anything. Well maybe we do. He thinks deeper, regains the positive; I mean, she did ask me. She asked me straight if I was coming tonight; I’m here, she’s here. So, that’s a date, isn’t it? Confidence restored, he starts to move in. He’s thinking on his feet now. Thank God for the Lynx, no wet-look tonight. But have I gone a bit over-the-top? My armpits feel like bird’s nests. Oh God look at me, I’m even walking like a gunslinger. Are those guys looking at me? Shit, what if she was waving at some one else?

“Oh, hi there Whitney, you, err, you look nice-” His flow stalls. His eyes dart about nervously. He inhales then spurts “Didn’t know you drank?” Oblivious to her company, he continues undaunted:“Would you like another? What is that you’re drin...?” His voice rises in pitch, more or less at the speed at which he is throwing together his sentences. He hovers, shuffling from foot to foot. He awaits her delighted, grateful response.

“No. No thanks, Darr-in, I’m fine.” her curt reply. With frowned eyebrows she dismisses him with a ‘don’t bother me’ shake of her head. Quickly she returns to the girlie circle in which she was previously engrossed.

Darren finds himself somewhat out on a limb. On the perimeter he glances nervously around the room. His back is to her. He is desperately looking for a bolthole. Finally his naivety gives way to reality: It wasn’t him that she had waved to after all. It must have been that girl, the one who had been standing beside him, who is again; standing beside him.

As she is drawn into the growing feminine circle, simultaneously his thought process finally spells it out: Not a date after all. Bummer! Same old story – Darren dumped. As his lonely walk away gathers momentum his thoughts re-engage: She, she was nice too, even the specs...

With the party in full swing, and the midnight hour well passed, a lonely Darren reacts to a tap on his shoulder. He darts round.

His position within the second row from the bar had been adopted as one of defence.

An area of neutrality; A place where his embarrassing fall from grace hides among the throng of mostly - in his opinion - blokes carrying similar crosses. His dourness however is immediately lifted...

“Darr-in darlin’; you’re all alone over here, so you are. Like, what’s up, babe?” But before he could muster an answer, “Come on, babe, dance with me. I love this wee song, so I do.”

Being lead, dragged by the hand, sweat breaks, he is consumed with panic. Well practiced, he knows all the right moves - within the sanctuary of his bedroom. But from a nervous, somewhat timid, start Darren is quickly moving to the rhythm of Timberlake and Rihanna, his confidence growing.

The mood changes however when the DJ fades up The Mavericks. Like a tidal wave the tiny dance floor is drenched with the upright-thumbed daddy dancers and jivers. A tug on his ill-fitting jacket pulls him further off balance. Whitney, who has also found herself musically adrift, winds his head down to her level; he cannot believe what he is hearing.

Looking up into the pulsating ceiling of illumination, he momentarily closes his eyes before uttering:“Thank you, Lord...” He returns to his now non-dancing partner to re-query: “S-Sorry Whitney, what did you-”

“Oh, Darr-in darling,’ you’re so slow like. Come on, we’re goin’ out for some air, so we are” He swallows hard. He follows in her wake, grinning.

The crisp December air rolling up a dimly lit street is only interrupted by the echo of Whitney’s heels clicking out of time on a gum-stained pavement. The muffled music battles against the sounds of a distant siren. A faulty street flashes its timing also out of sync with the clicks and the pounding of the disco beat.

“Right,” she slurs, wedging his bean-pole frame into a conveniently placed door-way,

“it’s Christmas, so let’s have it.... my festive snog.” Agog, he hasn’t time to think. On tip-toes her hands clasp his gangly neck. In a micro moment, and with finger-tip precision, she manoeuvres to engulf his thin lips.

Caught by surprise, he utters a brief cough. They part, he breathes again, deeply. A whiff of booze, crisps and cigarette combine to induce another cough. Before he can draw further breath she pulls him again. This time, however, he appears to have got the hang of it.

Even the rasping of her brace doesn’t deter him; he’s in for a third time.

On their return to the party, her lap dog in tow, she rejoins her circle her coven. Like a fully fuelled vampire, she disgorges the detail.... Darren, never realising he is soon to be surplus to requirements, is gainfully fetching drinks. He is poised in the positive awaiting the return of Whitney and her two turkey-trotting friends. However, his eyes momentarily meet with those of the girl with the specs. ... .

Darren quickly arrests his drifting thoughts, smiles and turns his head back to the dance floor. He is now, he reminds himself, truly wed into an emerging relationship with the lovely Whitney. He smiles triumphantly, ready and in waiting for the next stage of this evening’s romantic partnership.

“Happy Christmas to me,” he says aloud – no heads turn.