It’s funny how much scarier it feels to like someone when you’re older.
When you’re young, liking someone is so easy. It’s a walk in the park or a sigh through the cherry blossoms. It’s not just keeping your heart open, ready and willing but actively thrusting it at people with glee – shoving it through letterboxes or chucking it at heads across a classroom. It’s scribbling someone’s name all over your textbook and dreams, not caring if you’ve accidentally grabbed the permanent marker. You’ve never been hurt, after all – what’s to say this isn’t permanent?
But as you grow up you grow wary. You start scribbling names in washable ink, then pencil, then you stop writing them down all together. You weather so many cuts and bruises the chip on your shoulder gets bigger and bigger until your arm’s dangling from the socket on a couple of shaky tendons. You think twice about falling for someone in case you belly flop and make a fool of yourself.
It’s my third date with the Francophile. We’ve made plans to see a funny, uplifting political film – something to inject a little joie de vivre into a post-Trump world. She chooses a cinema with sofas, which immediately makes me nervous. Will I be expected to make a move? Will she make a move? How do you make a move in a cinema when you’re not 15 and full of vodka?
I take my seat next to her, careful not to touch her. As the film starts I feel horribly conscious of her body, and of my hands and arms and legs that are all too close and too big. I’m a giant. I’m an octopus. I’m a creeper clinging to the back of the sofa, terrified lest a tendril accidentally brushes her knee. I cross my legs so tightly my thighs get sore. I wish I was drunk.
For a while I can’t work out why I feel so awkward, what it is about me or her or us that is making this so hard. And then it dawns on me – she’s never actually given me a sign that she wants me to kiss her.
When someone fancies me, I can read the desire in her eyes as clearly as if she’d said the words aloud. If eyes are the windows to the soul, they’ve also got a rear view mirror to your knickers. But when I’ve said goodnight to the Francophile I’ve never seen anything there. She holds her cards so close to her chest I don’t know if she’s got a fistful of hearts or jokers. To make a move I need her to show her hand – just a little.
After the film ends we walk to the tube.
“I was going to suggest a drink but it’s a bit late,” she frowns at her watch.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I say, worrying terribly.
“It would be good to see you before you go on holiday though,” she says, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
And with that she smiles, turns and walks away, too fast to see my eyes begging her to come back and kiss me.