It is 11.31am precisely and Chris is looking at me.
I know he is looking at me because every time I look at him he drops his eyes. If someone is just staring into space and you happen to be in their line of vision they don't react for a moment or two when you catch their eye. If someone is looking at you with intentions to speak to you or say hello, they'll smile when they see you've noticed them.
But if they are looking at you for some other reason, and they don't want you to know this is what they are doing, then they will flick their eyes away as soon as you look over. This is what Chris is doing. He is sitting three seats down from me.
I look down, shuffle the papers in front of me. I look around again. This time he holds my eye, and he smiles, and I know he wants to sleep with me.
You see, the thing is that he has an enormous amount of power over me. This is the moment of clarity when I realize precisely how much danger I’m in, the same one you get standing on the edge of a cliff. I cannot be falling in love. It is a hazard to my already fragile mental health, and I’m not ready for it, and it’s not convenient, and I’m terrified of his rejection, of his reciprocation, of his beauty and his ambiguous smile. Also I know what this means. I’ve been here before.
Fuck that. I don’t need anyone. I don’t want to need anyone. I want to be left the hell alone, to hide in my flat with Rammstein, with the occasional visit from Amanda and Gin. I don’t understand why the real world keeps intruding, why it keeps flinging curveballs like Derek and Chris at me, why I can’t just be left alone to live the best way I know how. Just me, happy in my shell, “happy as a clam” people say sometimes, happy as a clam shut tight and closed and blissfully alone, unnoticed in the silt at the bottom of the sea.
Except that's not the only thing I want and a lot of the other things I want directly oppose it, and it's going to be impossible to reconcile my life so I have everything. Which means I need to find another option.
I want I want I want. The eternal whine of my inner toddler. I want love. I want sex. I want to be left alone. I want to be rich. I want to be adored, but only on my own terms. I want space. I want the jacket made of creamy-soft wine-red leather with the bronze zips. I want an icecream. I want a Barbie. I want THAT ONE. Shut the hell up, stupid kid.
The decision is no decision. There is only one choice in the end. I have to step up. If I don’t – if I back down from something like this, even just once – I’m jeopardising everything I’ve achieved, all the self-esteem I've worked so hard to create.
All my instincts are to run away, to blank him every time I see him until the problem goes away and I can go back to my solitary life and dream of men I'll never have. That's a kind of unhappiness I can feel comfortable with.
But this has to be done, because I don't fucking back down. I step up. I always step up.
Backing down is when you repeat, right along with Matthew, “I will take what I’m given because I am not allowed to ask for what I want.”
So, what now? I continue to cultivate a friendship. I wait. Sooner or later the time will be right, at a drink after work one night or at another thing like Jena's barbecue, and I know now, I read in his eyes, that (barring unforeseen events) it'll happen.
Is he what I think he is? What do I think he is? Who is he? Is he safe?
I don't know. I can't tell.
The meeting finishes and we walk out. As I leave, Chris falls into step beside me. He smells great again. He smiles. His teeth are very white.
"Hello! How was your weekend?" he says.