By Lily Mulholland
Checking her teeth in the mirror, Caroline saw that, once again, her slightly protruding front right tooth had caught the lipstick. It didn’t matter how hard she tried, there was always an echo of colour where there should only be white. She carefully wiped it off with her finger and cleaned it on a towel. She ran her hands over her hair to tame the flyaways.
‘Not too bad’, she thought, ‘for someone who’s had three glasses of bubbly. No, make that four! I forgot the one I had before the play.’ She giggled nervously to herself and stopped. This was no time to be silly. Tom was waiting for her at their booth and she had been in here ten minutes already trying to calm herself down. The night was going well. Too well. Then the bombshell.
‘So, which part of Canberra do you live in?’ he’d asked her.
‘Actually I live just a couple of blocks down.’
‘Oh really? Do you work in town too?’
‘Well, sort of. I’m a freelance writer so I work from my apartment. I have lots of government clients who keep me busy, but my passion is fiction.’
‘Had anything published?’
‘Only a couple of short stories. I’m actually writing the first draft of a novel right now.’
‘Right now?’ he’d asked with a smile. ‘Does that mean I’m going to be in it?’
She laughed. A funny guy. That made her relax a bit. She’d been sitting bolt upright for the past two hours, trying not to speak too quickly as she felt the seductive tentacles of the champagne stealthily travel through her body. They’d been discussing the play and she’d tried not to be too obviously female in her criticism of The Taming of the Shrew’s storyline. Fortunately he’d said it for her and had agreed that the cast had done a great job of keeping contemporary such an anachronistic storyline.
‘And which part of Canberra do you live in?’ she asked Tom in return.
‘I don’t. I live in Sydney but commute here most weeks for work. I run a change management consultancy and most of my key clients are here.’
She’d tried to hide her disappointment.
‘So how did you come to be at the show?’
‘One of my clients, who’s also a mate, was supposed to come with his wife, but they’ve both got swine flu. He gave the tickets to me. I had no one to bring with me, hence the empty seat next to me.’
She must have looked disappointed, as Tom reached over and placed his hand over hers.
‘I do fly into Canberra most weeks.’
She smiled. That was something. It was at that point in the conversation that Caroline had realised she really needed to go to the toilet.
‘Will you excuse me a minute? I have to go and powder my nose.’
Tom had stood up as she’d left the table and watched her walk to the ladies’ room.
‘Right, Caroline, get a grip.’ She was talking out loud. ‘The man of your dreams is waiting for you. Get your butt out there and be interesting!’
Tom stood again as she sat down. He pushed her chair in for her and sat in the one next to her, rather than across the other side of the table where he’d been earlier.
She could smell his aftershave and see the pores on the skin of his neck. She tried to concentrate, but had an overwhelming urge to snuggle her face into him, as she had done for the second half of the play.
‘May I walk you home?’
Caroline looked up, startled.
‘Well, you live so close, it’s the least I could do.’
‘I, er, um, yes, that would be lovely.’
Her mind was racing. Was this goodbye, thanks for coming, see you later, or was this can I come back to your place? She tried to remember if the place was a mess but her train of thought was cut off by Tom standing up and placing two fifties on the table and nodding to the waiter. The waiter brought Caroline’s coat and Tom helped her into it.
‘After you,’ he said.
Outside the restaurant, Caroline was grateful she’d worn a coat. It was freezing. Tom saw her shiver and put his arm around her shoulder. She was enveloped by his scent and did her best not to actually swoon.
‘Down Constitution and two blocks up Allara.’
‘It’s called The One. Pretty pretentious, but it’s got a killer view.’
She winced. Perhaps she shouldn’t say ‘killer’ to a man she’d just met. A man about whom she knew very little other than he lived in Sydney and worked in Canberra. And he liked Shakespeare. A man she should probably not be inviting back to her apartment. But it had been so long since she’d felt attracted to a man, and so long since she’d had sex. She didn’t know if she could hold out if that’s what Tom was escorting her home for.
They walked along without saying much, and Caroline decided to just enjoy the moment. Before long they were in the foyer of her building. Before she could ask him if he wanted to come up, Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out his business card.
‘I would like to see you again Caroline. Here’s my mobile and my email. Please call me. Soon.’
With that he pulled her into an embrace and kissed her gently on the forehead. He walked her to the lift and pushed the button. Caroline was incapable of speaking as she stepped into the lift. Tom gave her a small wave and a big smile. She felt warm and wonderful inside.