I’ve invited the Thai for lunch with my friends.
I don’t often introduce the people I’m seeing to my friends. It’s not that I’m sniffy or pompous about these things. It’s that I rarely date anyone where I can see a possible future and so don’t want to insinuate a closeness I don’t feel. When I eventually introduced Blue Eyes to my friends it felt like more obligatory than celebratory – the grudging culmination of 6 months of rocky dating.
I’m also protective of my friendship group. I’ve worked hard to cultivate it, collecting my friends over the years like beloved bric-a-brac. Some I found myself, others I borrowed and others I stole, stuffing them in my pocket and legging it before anyone noticed. Ha! They’re mine now, suckers!
I love how different they are, each bringing a special warmth to my life. There are childhood friends, work friends and uni friends. There are friends who like art or spas or philosophy or climbing mountains. There’s the fun friend who always orders tequila, drags you to karaoke or gets you on the dance floor; and there’s the kind friend who slips you a cheeky water, shouts you a kebab or orders you a cab home. There’s The Friend you once held a candle for – and the friend who urged you to blow it out. And there’s the friends you know will be there until the bitter end.
I look at them all and feel proud. No one else has this particular friendship group. It’s my own configuration, my very own constellation. The thought of introducing someone new into it feels scary, and yet my friends deserve to meet the only real woman I’ve had in my life in the last year; the woman around whom my world could orbit one day.
We head to the lunch on a wild, windy day in December.
“Are you nervous?” the Thai says when we meet at the station.
“No,” I snap nervously. “What’s wrong with your hair? It’s wet.”
“Nothing, I washed it. Jesus.”
We get off and I have no idea where we’re going. I peer at my phone in the biting wind and accidentally direct us down a path into the river Thames.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Yeah, we’re just taking the scenic route,” I scowl at my phone.
“Sure you’re not nervous?”
“No. Yes. Are you?”
“Can I have your hand, please?”
We find the pub eventually and the lunch goes off without a hitch. She’s warm and charming. I’m loud and drunk. I check on her every now and then, giving her knee a quick squidge but truthfully it’s more for me than for her.
Halfway through the lunch she gets up to go to the loo:
“I love her,” my friend whispers, “well done.”
Later I get a round of gooey-eyed texts from the group – seems she’s a hit. I breathe a sigh of relief, my delicate ecosystem is safe. Except…well…she better not steal my friends!