Terry Gaiman adjusted his black bow tie in the mirror, trying to get it straight. He twisted it first one way, decided he'd gone too far, twisted it back, realised he'd overcompensated, twisted it again.
Why did evening wear have to be so complicated?
He fussed with his cufflinks. The shirt cuffs felt like a pair of oversized floppy manacles. He looked back in the mirror and tried, again, to straighten his bow tie.
He checked the clock and felt his heart flutter in nervous panic.
She was going to be here soon.
He flittered round his bedroom like an over-caffeinated moth. Did he have everything? Were his clothes right? He was convinced he was going to make a fool of himself.
He knew there was no real need to panic. She wouldn't care either way. He still wanted to make an effort though. It wouldn't feel right if he took it for granted.
The doorbell rang as he was tying up his shoelaces. He'd been expecting the sound but the shock of it still kicked his heart up until it felt like he was on the verge of spitting it out onto the floor.
He rushed back to the mirror. Damn tie still wasn't straight.
He was almost out of his bedroom when he remembered something. He turned back and plucked an old trilby hat from a stand in the corner.
"Mustn't forget this," he said.
The hat had been stylish once and despite being a little age worn it still possessed a bit of class. At least Terry thought so. He put it on his head and rushed down the corridor to answer the door.
The girl on the other side took Terry's breath away.
He'd expected sexy. He'd expected fit. He'd expected raunchy.
What he hadn't expected was a beauty that looked as if she'd stepped straight out of the pages of a fairytale to pluck at his heartstrings as if they were an exquisite harp. How to even describe her?
Her skin was pale like fresh snow.
No, that was the wrong metaphor. Snow is cold, undesired.
There was a coldness to her features though. Like marble.
Yes, that was a better fit. Stone had an aloofness and distance about it, as if it was far removed from such paltry concerns as rot and decay. She had the cold perfection of stone worked by a master sculptor, a beauty that sat outside the flow of years as if they could never touch her.
Terry didn't know what to do. His plans now seemed like the despoilment of a lush paradise.
"Hello, I'm Nicole," the girl said. "Are you Terry?"
Terry nodded. Her voice had the same trace of an accent he'd heard on the phone. He couldn't tell if it was French or Eastern European. During the phone conversation her voice had made him picture an exotic model or actress from an old chic movie. He knew his mental image wouldn't match up; he hadn't expected it to be surpassed.
She wore a white fur coat and fashionable sunglasses and looked every bit the stylish and refined model. Her hair was cut in a short black bob. She looked stunning.
What would she make of him, Terry thought. Inwardly he must disgust her.
"You can speak you know," Nicole said with a smile.
Her lips were a contrast to the paleness of her skin, a vivid splash of red like a precious bloom. When she smiled her entire face was transformed. The cold perfection softened into a truly heart-melting beauty.
"I'm sorry," Terry said. "I'm not used to speaking to beautiful women. Come in," he added, backing into the hallway to allow her to enter.
"So what are we doing this evening?" Nicole asked. "From the way you're all dressed up I'm guessing we have plans to go out."
Terry picked up a flier from the telephone table. It advertised a summer dance at the local cricket club.
"Would you like to come with me to the dance?" he asked.
"Why I would love to accompany such a charming young man to the dance," Nicole replied. "But first..."
She examined him with a critical eye. Then she stepped forward and went down on her knees until her head was level with his crotch.
Was she going to? Already? He felt his cock stiffen in his pants and all of a sudden he felt a little giddy and light-headed.
Nicole reached behind him and untied his cummerbund. She dropped the red silk slash on the phone table with an expression on mild distaste.
"A little too formal for a summer dance I think," she said.
Terry let out a breath, unsure whether it was relief or disappointment.
Nicole ran a finger up the outline of his erection, causing Terry to shiver with pleasure.
"Later," she smiled, getting back to her feet. "We have the whole night ahead of us."
"Do I look okay?" Terry asked, opening his arms. "The suit was my father's. It's all I have."
And the hat had originally belonged to his grandfather, but he wasn't about to mention that. Leaving the house without his hat was not an option.
"I look horribly out of fashion don't I?" Terry said.
"Nonsense," Nicole said, stepping close enough for the subtle fragrance of her perfume to toy with his nostrils. "You look like a perfectly stylish young man."
She reached up with her pale hands to adjust his bow tie, finally getting it straight. Seeing those luscious red lips pursed in concentration, Terry felt the sudden urge to kiss her. His head angled down to meet her, a trajectory he halted long before they met.
They didn't like to kiss, he'd heard, and he didn't want to offend her.
Nicole was not the type to be offended. Her hands finished with his tie and then slid onwards over his shoulders and met behind his neck. She pulled his head down until her lips, soft and supple, crushed against his. His initial wild excitement was doused in a calm sea of bliss. Standing there, with Nicole in his arms, her warm lips working against his, he felt like he'd become part of the same perfect sculpture. In her arms it felt like time could no longer touch him, as if the passing of night and day ran together into one single blur.
She pulled away with a smile.
"We'd better stop, otherwise we won't make the dance," she said.
Was that such a bad thing? Terry thought, but he followed her out to her a car, a little Renault Clio. Outside the air was muggy and Terry was glad Nicole had got him to remove some of his excess clothing.
As they drove to the cricket ground on the edge of town Terry noticed Nicole still hadn't removed her sunglasses. They were already deep enough into twilight for the street lights to bathe the road in a wan orange glow.
"Can you see okay with those?" Terry asked.
"I have a rare condition," Nicole answered. "My eyes are extremely sensitive to light. Without my glasses even those street lights are bright enough to cause me pain."
The field next to the ground was being used as an overspill car park. Even that was full, but Nicole's car was small enough for her to sneak it into a space beneath a gnarled old oak.
"I suppose you see enough rare conditions every day," Nicole said. "Dr Pratchett says you're wonderful with the children at the hospital."
"He does?" Terry said. "I just try and make things fun for them. It's heart-wrenching some of the illnesses they suffer. Both Holly McKean and Madeleine Kieth have leukaemia. Dr Pratchett reckons they only have a few months left. Holly is eleven, Maddy is twelve. It's Mary Dringenberg I really feel for. She has Progeria, that premature ageing condition. Eight years old and she already looks like a wrinkled old lady."
"It's a tragedy to have to become acquainted with death at such a tender age," Nicole said.
"They're still children though," Terry said. "At heart they want the same things as any other child. They want to laugh, to play, to have fun. People forget that sometimes. They're so busy pitying them or trying to hide their own revulsion, they forget the poor kid just wants someone to play with them."
Terry paused and looked at Nicole.
"This probably isn't a good topic of conversation before going out on a date is it?" he said.
Nicole smiled enigmatically.
"I don't want you to think I'm morbid or obsessed by death or anything," Terry added.
"Some say the only two topics worthy of conversation are sex and death," Nicole said.
"Sex seems more appropriate for this evening," Terry said. "More fun."
"I agree. I think we should discuss it later," Nicole said. She reached across and put a hand in Terry's lap. "At great length," she added with another enigmatic smile.
They walked to the bright lights of the clubhouse. A number of stalls had been set up outside and were gaily lit with bright lamps. Some offered games with the chance to win novelty stuffed animals. There was a tombola. Others offered a variety of different foods and drinks. The clubhouse itself rocked to the bass thumps of loud dance music. It was heaving in there.
Terry felt a momentary flash of reluctance. Most of the town youth would be here and there was him in his Granddad's hat and his father's dinner suit. Nicole's presence on his arm emboldened him though. It felt like they were the most glamorous couple there. Everyone turned to look at them, or rather Nicole.
Of course it was only fantasy, but Terry didn't care. He'd enjoy the night while it lasted.
"How do you know Dr Pratchett?" Terry asked.
"I comforted him after his wife passed on," Nicole answered.
"Oh," Terry said.
"That's a very judgemental 'Oh' I'm hearing there," Nicole said, cocking her head up to look at him.
.... There is more of this story ...