Later that evening, Jenny and Amber were standing in a quiet corner at The Bank bar, watching as their fellow speed daters milled around in excited circles. Amber was standing against the wall, and Jenny was standing an inch away from it, unwilling to rub her shoulders against the wallpaper. Earlier, they had scoped out the seating arrangements for the night ahead. After Jenny had chosen the least offensive seating position she had given the chair and table a thorough wipe down, and then hung her jacket on the back of the chair to make sure no-one else sat there. Meanwhile, Amber had diverted the barman’s attention by asking him whether he thought she was showing too much cleavage (not surprisingly he vigorously argued that she was not).
Jenny kept glancing down at her dress, and marvelling at it. She had needed to add stockings, boots and a jacket to make it winter-proof, but once she had removed her jacket the effect was still dramatic. She had let Amber convince her to wear some foundation and blusher, but she drew the line at mascara (everyone knows mascara is riddled with infection-causing bacteria).
‘So, who’s coming from your group tonight Jen? I forgot to ask earlier.’
‘Just one guy, actually. His name is Phil.’ Jenny glanced around the room, as more people started to arrive. She couldn’t see him anywhere.
‘Right, what does he look like? I’ll keep an eye out for him.’
‘Well,’ Jenny considered this, ‘he’s got blonde hair, and dimples – and a lovely smiley face. I mean, he smiles a LOT.’
Amber looked at her, and narrowed her eyes. ‘Hmm, interesting.’
‘What? What’s interesting?’
‘Oh, nothing. Is that him?’ Amber pointed to a large blonde man in a suit, approaching the bar.
‘No, that’s not him. He’s, er, really overweight. Extremely big. And, kind of messy, I guess.’
A minute passed and the blonde man at the bar turned towards them, beer in hand. ‘He certainly seems to be staring at you like he knows you,’ Amber observed.
The blonde man smiled at Jenny, and waved shyly. She took a few seconds to register who it was, as he walked across the bar to stand beside her. ‘Phil?’
‘Wow,’ he looked at her and whistled, ‘you look amaaaazing.’
‘Oh, thanks,’ Jenny shrugged with embarrassment, and Phil looked away as his cheeks turned scarlet. ‘You look great too, Phil. That suit makes you look like a completely different person. Um, in a good way. Did you end up going shopping with Ant then?’
‘Yeah. He has fantastic taste, I’d never have tried this suit on. It was all going great until we were leaving the shop and the sales assistant noticed something sticking out of his pocket.’
Jenny’s eyes widened. ‘No way!’
Phil was about to tell her the story, when the music went silent and someone started talking on a microphone.
‘Welcome single people! It’s great to see so many of you - this is going to be F. U. N! Are you ready to meet the luuuurve of your life?’
There were a few cheers and embarrassed titters in the crowd, which had suddenly doubled. Jenny looked around nervously, and hoped that no-one would inadvertently rub up against her. Phil seemed to read her thoughts, as he changed his position to stand directly between her and the rest of the crowd, like a giant blonde wind breaker. Jenny smiled at him gratefully.
‘If you haven’t already written your name on the list at the bar, and got your name tag, can you please do it now?’ said the voice on the microphone.
‘You need me to get your name tag?’ Phil asked Jenny, winking at her. Jenny laughed, and shook her head.
‘Not this time Phil. I’ve already got it, and sprayed the hell out of it with disinfectant. I’m surprised it hasn’t disintegrated, actually.’
This time Phil laughed out loud, and Jenny grinned back at him. Turning to Amber, she noticed Amber was watching her. Closely. ‘What?’ Jenny mouthed at her. Amber shrugged, and raised her eyebrows before turning back to the man with the microphone.
‘Okay, for those who don’t know how this works. Ladies will stay seated, and men will move around the circle of tables. You’ll get five minutes at each table, guys. When the bell rings you need to get up and move one table over, clockwise. You’ve all got a notepad, write down the numbers of anyone you meet that you’d like to see again. At the end of the evening, we’ll match up any guys and gals who want to hook up. And the rest of you, well, the bar’s open til midnight to drown your sorrows.’ Microphone guy laughed. ‘Let’s get this party started.’
‘Good luck, Jen,’ Amber whispered in her ear, before walking off to find somewhere to sit.
Jenny smiled at her and then at Phil, before finding her own table and chair and watching as the guys were told which table to go to for the first round. The bell rang, and Jenny took a deep breath as the first man sat in front of her. He was very tall, and very thin. Don’t say titties. Don’t vomit. Don’t reach over and punch him in the windpipe. Don’t tell him he looks like a grey piece of spaghetti. Don’t… Jenny was so busy telling herself what not to do and say, that she was startled when he spoke.
‘I’m James,’ the tall thin guy said. ‘Pleased to meet you.’
He held out a hand for shaking, and Jenny pretended she couldn’t see it. James frowned, and put his hand back on the table.
‘Nice to meet you too, James. I don’t, er, like to shake hands. Sorry. Sorry about that. And, I’m Jenny.’
‘Hi Jenny. You’re very pretty. Do you work out?’
‘Um, I guess. A little bit. I don’t go to a gym or anything.’
‘Oh, that’s a shame. I like girls who work out. Fit girls,’ he winked at her suggestively, ‘with lots of energy. If you know what I mean?’
Jenny shivered involuntarily. This was not getting off to a good start.
‘What do you do James?’ she asked politely.
‘I do girls,’ he laughed. He then looked serious, as he glanced around the room quickly. ‘Not “girl” girls, I’m not a perve. Woman girls. Above the age of consent, obviously.’ He swallowed loudly. ‘And you?’
Jenny prayed for the bell to ring. Or, failing that, the ceiling to cave in.
Over the next five rounds, Jenny met Sam (a fireman, who talked incessantly about the size of his “fire hose”, Jenny still wasn’t sure if it had been a euphemism or not), Jeremy (an IT something-or-other who still lived at home with his parents and collected spiders for a hobby), Charlie (who was looking for a woman with big tits - ‘sorry, no offence er, what was your name again?’), Mark (a professional ironman, who didn’t have time for a girlfriend but was looking for some casual “relief”) and Paul (a surfer-type with disgustingly dirty-looking dreads and one exceptionally long and grubby thumbnail, which he told Jenny he used for rolling spliffs).
It was a disaster. An unmitigated disaster.
When the bell rang for round seven, Jenny was tempted to stand up and run out the door. Except she saw that Phil was coming her way. He sat down heavily on the chair in front of her, and sighed loudly. There were sweat marks on the front of his shirt, which had come untucked from his pants. He was looking decidedly unkempt, much more like the Phil she was used to. There was also a slight whiff of body odour emanating from him, which Jenny tried her best to ignore.
‘Holy shit, I don’t know about you Jen, but some of these ladies are seriously messed up. And I thought our support group was full of crazies.’ His eyes suddenly widened. ’Oh, sorry, not that I think you’re crazy.’
Jenny laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it. I was just contemplating getting up and running out the door actually.’ Jenny lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Who have you met so far?’
Phil motioned to a lady two tables down on Jenny’s right. ‘See that one over there? The blonde?’ Jenny nodded.
‘She told me she’s into fat guys… and being strangled.’
Jenny shook her head in disbelief. ‘And see the woman in the green dress over the other side of the room?’ Jenny looked over Phil’s shoulder, and nodded again.
’Her name is Beyonce. Like the singer. She said she’s a ‘nudist’. Phil smiled at Jenny, ‘I know, so far so good right? Except she also owns seven cats, and calls herself a white witch.’
Jenny snorted with laughter, and someone at another table looked over at her. ‘Well, see that grubby looking guy in the shiny suit?’ Phil turned his head to look, and then nodded at her. ‘He told me my face is nice, but I need bigger tits. He asked if I would ever consider a boob job.’
Jenny laughed, expecting Phil to do the same and was surprised when he scowled. ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! You don’t need to change a thing.’
Jenny looked down at her hands and Phil immediately looked away with embarrassment. ‘Sorry, just saying. That guy is a knob-end.’ He looked thoughtful for a minute. ‘Sooo, you want to cut our losses and go get a drink at the bar next door?’
Jenny considered it. ‘I’m not sure I could Phil, it’s too unknown, too many, er, factors. I think what I need is a scalding hot shower and a vigorous scrub with steel wool. Plus,’ she quickly scanned the room and saw Amber talking animatedly to Mark the Ironman, ‘I can’t go without Amber.’
‘Okay, we’ll guts it out then,’ Phil squared his shoulders, ‘at least we’ll have an interesting story to tell the group at our next meeting.’
Jenny smiled and nodded, just as the bell rang to signify another round was about to start.
‘Right, off to meet the next lucky lady.’ Phil stood up, and went to move off before he suddenly stalled. ‘Jen?’
‘You do look lovely tonight.’
‘Oh. Um, thanks Phil. See you at the end.’
An hour later, and the agony was over. When Amber asked her whether she had selected any of the guys to meet up with, Jenny had fixed her with a stare of disbelief.
Amber had held up her hands. ‘Okay, okay, they weren’t exactly the cream of the crop. I actually thought they were all supposed to be corporate types.’
Jenny glanced back at the bar. She saw the guy with the dreadlocks pick up a discarded beer from an empty table and down it in one go. He looked up and saw her watching him. She looked away, but not before she saw him shrug his shoulders indifferently. ‘Hmm, definitely not the cream of the crop Ams.’
The two women laughed, and turned around when they heard a voice calling Jenny’s name. It was Phil.
‘Any luck then?’ he asked her.
‘Nope, nada. You?’
‘Not even the blonde who wants to be strangled?’
Phil grimaced, and then laughed. ‘Definitely not her. But maybe I’ll give the white witch a call someday…’
‘Well, um, I’ll see you at the next meeting Phil. Thanks, for coming along. And, I’m sorry you didn’t meet anyone.’
Phil smiled. ‘No worries. It was… interesting.’ He hesitated, and then shook his head slightly. ‘See you in a few weeks. Bye Amber - it was nice to meet you.’
‘See you Phil. Nice to meet you too.’
As soon as Phil had walked in one direction and the two of them rounded a corner in another, Amber stopped on the footpath.
Jenny looked at her with confusion. ‘What do you mean? Spill what?’
‘You know what,’ Amber replied impatiently, ‘what’s going on with you two?’
‘Who? Me and Phil?’ Jenny looked at her incredulously. ‘Absolutely nothing. Why are you even asking?’
Amber considered this. ‘I don’t know, there’s something going on. I have a radar for this sort of thing.’
‘Well, your radar must be broken then,’ Jenny insisted. A moment’s silence passed. ‘What did you think of him, anyway?’
‘I didn’t get a chance to find out much, he was too busy talking about you when he got to my table.’
‘Mm-hm, yes he was. Very interesting, very interesting indeed.’
‘Oh, come off it Ams, as if. You saw the size of him, you know how neurotic I am. You saw the sweat marks on the front of his shirt. You know my thoughts on overweight people and their personal hygiene. How could I possibly be attracted to him?’
‘Yes, how indeed…’ Amber muttered. Reaching their cars, which were parked side by side in a nearby carpark, Amber looked at her watch. ‘Anyway, let’s get out of this freezing cold. It’s late. I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?’
‘For what? Exposing you to the dregs of the male population?’
‘No, not that. Just thanks. For, for sticking our friendship out.’
Amber shrugged. ‘Don’t be silly, you mad cow. I love ya. Now get that beautiful purple dress home, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’