Thursday, 8 May 2014

First Date

An elderly man smiled as he watched her pacing back and forth. She periodically stood still and tried to seem calm for a minute or so, but was continuously betrayed by her sudden attention when new people arrived on the scene - a bus unloading, new cars pulling into the car park or even pedestrians turning onto the street she stood in.

Behind her was a train station, but she never once looked towards it. The man had been intrigued by this early on as she seemed to stand against the tide of tourists and pleasure seekers that flowed past her and onto the platform. Moments later she perked up and he realised she'd seen the person she was waiting for.

Helen felt a surge of excitement as she spotted Jake. He didn't quite look like his photos, but she knew straight away it was him. He saw her and waved. When they came together they smiled awkwardly and chatted briefly about the traffic - her early arrival and his not quite late arrival - before she explained that she still needed to get the tickets.

"You didn't actually say what we'd be doing on this date." He smiled down at her.

"I know. To be honest, I was a little scared I would go off the idea and wanted to keep my options open!"

He chuckled. "And now you know I was right that organising a date is harder than women give us credit for."

"Come on, we have to get our tickets."

She took him into the train station. The whole place was an antique - from the polished brass door knobs, umbrella stand and bicycle to the station master's ticket booth, timetables and uniform. The two of them went together to the ticket master and she bought two returns to the end of the line. Once they were finished, they took a little time to enjoy the ambiance and admire the fixtures and fittings before joining their fellow passengers on the platform to watch the steam train pull in.

They both enjoyed the spectacle of the machinery, the chaos of the previous passengers offloading - an oddly pleasant spectacle when compared to a modern train ejecting commuters - and their own ascent into the carriage. Inside the carriages were also antiquated; not exactly plush like one might imagine first class being, but obviously someone had made an effort. The upholstery was velvet and had gold cord trimming, there was a feeling of wood and solidity; the floor was uncarpeted and the paintwork slightly soot flecked. Parts of the wall had also been papered and panelled and certain seats had wood surrounds to make them more private. The couple chose a bench and admired their surroundings. They chattered inconsequentially for almost ten minutes before the train began to move. The whistles, smoke, chug-chug and clatter was met by cheers from excited children on the train and applause from some of the people remaining on the platform to wave them off.

As they went through the countryside the two carried on conversations they had started on the dating site. The full length of the track only took half an hour to travel and they climbed off into another small town. Jake went first and took her hand to help her out of the carriage. "That was really cool!"

"I thought so too! I figured it would be nicer than getting the bus or a regular train out here. But now we actually need to transport ourselves a little."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah. I hope you like hiking."

He laughed, assented and followed the direction of her hand gesture. They headed up into the hills on a walk she'd done before and really liked. About half an hour in there was a steep downhill slope with nothing to hold onto which always caused her to freak out. He'd pulled a few steps ahead but glanced back to see her hovering uncertainly at the top. He bounded back up and took her hand. "You ok?"

"Kind of terrified, actually. I really don't like heights."

"OK, well, do you want to go back?"

"No, I can do this, I just... It's going to take a while."

"No problem. Do you want to hang onto me while you do it?"

She nodded and seized his arm. "Oh, that would help! Do you mind? As long as I'm not just relying on my feet to keep me safe I feel better, but it would be embarrassing  to try crawling down here." He smiled and held out his arm. 

"I got you, you're fine."

Minutes later they reached the bottom and walked along a little hand in hand. The tone of the conversation had also changed from casual to more intimate flirtation and the stress of the moment had broken down several of her barriers. Without prompting, he kept an eye out for the moments where she might need a hand and soon grew to recognise the angle she turned her feet when she felt unsteady and the way she bent her right leg to brace herself for a nervous rush of steps.

After an hour they reached a road and within a kilometer they reached a pub. She pointed to it as their lunch stop and explained that she loved to stop mid ramble for a pint of real ale and some good pub food. It would be a stretch of reality to suggest he objected to her plan, so in they went. An hour later he dragged her laughingly out into the open, adamant that she didn't need a pudding since she hadn't finished her vegetables. Pouting good-humouredly she let him and they carried on their route.

Leaving that village and its pub behind they headed back into open countryside to return to the train station. Along the way they often fell into periods of comfortable silence and as they neared the village he slowed. Adjusting her pace to match his, she glanced up at him curiously. He gestured out into the valley "You can just about see the tracks from here. Do you think if we watch the train go along it, we'll still be able to get to the station in time to catch it?"

"If not, I'm willing to splash out on a bus ticket home!"

The two of them leaned against the wall and gazed out into the countryside. As they waited he mentioned how much he'd enjoyed today and she smiled up at him. "Not bad for my first effort at arranging a date, huh?"

He reached out and rang his hand down her back in a half-hug, half-caress. "You did great." Leaning in, he touched his lips to hers. When she tilted her head to allow him better access, their kiss deepened and if it hadn't been for the shrill whistle from the train in the valley below, they might have missed it entirely. As it was, they watched it pull around a bend and under a bridge they they rushed to catch it. Fifteen minutes later they reached the village and, seeing no steam rising from the station, assumed the worst until another whistle sounded.They looked at each other and sprinted the rest of the way. Charging onto the platform, he ushered her onto the train then leaped up like a character from an old movie.

Laughing she pointed out how much more awesome that would have been if the train was actually moving. "You can't have everything," he said, smiling cockily down at her before giving her another brief kiss.

The conductor cleared his throat pointedly and she showed him their tickets. He shook his head reprovingly and lead them to their seats as the train began to warm up to leave the station. On the journey back the two held hands and snuggled closely on the hard bench; mostly looking out the window, occasionally pointing out little bits of the countryside that might have been where they walked. 

When they reached their stop they climbed down more slowly and stood just outside the station as the rest of the passengers dissipated. "That was a great day," he said. "I kind of wish you'd got dessert after all. It would have made it a little longer."

"Well," she hesitated, but plunged on, "There's a cocktail bar round the corner that does great desserts and it's still early, so we won't be under dressed."

"Let's go. My treat. I owe you one for cake blocking you earlier!"

She laughed. "You're definitely my kind of man! Let's go."