Claire: A short story

If you ever hear me say I’m going to trust bloody Claire with bloody anything, and I do mean anything, ever again; please bloody God give me a big, hard wallop across the bloody face, will you?

I knew she’d screw it up. Knew it. Knew it, in bold, underlined italics. She’s too keen for her own good; I hate people like that – she’ll stick her oar in whenever she gets the opportunity; she’ll launch into a worthy monologue about how she’s the best at X or the most well-connected at Y or taking some left-field evening class in Z.

She’s the new girl at netball, she’s just joined the team. 30? 31? Similar age to me. It’s very casual, the whole set-up: we meet down the Leisure Centre a couple of evenings a week, sometimes just for training and sometimes for matches as part of the amateur league we’re in. Claire joined a month or two ago and, honestly, you’d think we were competing at the Olympics the way she goes on about it. You’d think we were heading to Rio. She gives us patronising pep talks, she shrieks orders at us while we’re playing, she plays Jessie fucking J in the changing rooms… She even talks over lovely Linda, our coach, who for some unknown reason just stands there and takes it. And don’t get me started – literally don’t. even. fire. me. up. – over the colour-coded spreadsheet she made for the pissing carpool rota.

Alas! I’m the only one who finds her intolerable. Everyone else loves her. Even Linda. Fucking Jessie J sympathisers. Granted, she’s nice enough when it comes to idle chit-chat but there’s just something about her; something about that giant spiky rod up her backside that puts me right off her. And it turns out, whadyaknow, she’s just as controlling with people’s personal lives as she is with netball.

The other week we were out for a couple of drinks after a match; and it was really special because it was the first game we’d won in around about two and a half years. It was also the first game we’d played since Claire joined, so obviously she was quite happy to take all the credit for it and everyone else was quite happy to give her a big pat on the back. We were at a budget bar for a couple of glasses of wine, and with Her Royal Highness turning it into a big Getting To Know You session, eventually conversation turned to people’s love lives. Like an American teen slumber party in a sticky-floored Wetherspoons that smelt of pie and sick.

Everyone took it in turns to give it the big Piers Morgan’s Life Stories about their husbands, partners, boyfriends, girlfriends; and then it got to me and I said, just really casually, ‘I’m single, actually’. Maybe they misheard me and thought I said I had terminal cancer but their eyes all widened in a mixture of pity, horror and fascination; like a gaggle of conservative pensioners meeting their first homosexual. Some thought I wanted sympathy, some bellowed ‘YEAH! POWER TO YOU! INDEPENDENT WOMAN!’ and others made such a contrived effort to appear nonchalant, they looked as if they’d farted and almost followed-through.

I thought, stupid me, it was 2016 now and we’d sailed past the days when you had to be settled down and married before you saw-out your twenties, lest you become an outdated Bridget Jones cliche. Apparently not.

Anyway, Claire – because she’s Claire and this is what Claire does – saw the opportunity to get involved and she seized it; she seized it by the horns. ‘I have LOADS of single friends,’ she announced. ‘I’ll set you up with someone!’ And that was it. I was in her crosshairs, and there was no escaping them. She was a sniper on a rooftop and I was the target below; unable to outrun it.  Needless to say the other girls were right behind her, urging me to let her revolutionise my life;  change it for the better. Save me from my perilous pit of singledom and throw me gracefully into the arms of my Prince Charming. I bet Claire was one of those Brits who does a gap year in a far-away country, spends a few days volunteering in a school and comes back saying she saved the children. Fuck off. ‘I’m fine as I am,’ I told them. ‘I’m not looking for a relationship, I’m happy single.’

Obviously that wasn’t enough for our newest member (and, by extension, the team as a whole) and after a while, with the attention really starting to cheese me off, I surrendered. I waved my little white flag and let Hurricane Claire do its worst. Screw it, I thought. If I have to tolerate this woman, I can at least get a date out of her. And on came the avalanche of probing questions: what’s my type, do I like short guys, do I like tall guys, do I like slim guys, do I like well-built guys, do I like bald, hairy, sporty, geeky, blond, ginger, bald, religious guys, do I have an accent preference, star sign preference, do I need them to have a specific income, do I want them circumcised, does it matter if they have a murder conviction… Talking to Claire about men was more complicated than filing a tax return, annd all I was saying was ‘depends, depends, depends…’ Like, I don’t think I really have a type. Just ‘not a cunt’.

She took a moment to take everything into consideration; to mentally flick through her Filofax of eligible bachelors while everyone else giggled like a gormless Greek chorus, and eventually she said, very slowly, a smug look on her smug face: ‘Right. I’ve got one guy in mind, but he’s a bit older than you. A good few years. Is that OK?’ And look, I’m not going to lie, I’m quite partial to an older gentleman: Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney, Brad Pitt… anybody anyone fancied in 2001 is pretty much still on my wish-list today. So, after taking a moment to quietly wish myself luck, I accepted. Why the hell not? If worse came to worst, it’d just be a fun story to tell at our next practice. If it went well I might have even had a reason to like Claire.

No such luck.

Claire told me his name – Jules – and where to go for the date, but nothing more. This was a proper blind date situation: no pictures, no nothing. I’ll be honest: I did leaf through her Facebook friends to see if there was a Jules I could take a peek at, but there wasn’t, not a male one anyway, so I had absolutely nothing. All I knew was his name, the fact he was a bit older than me, and where he’d be at 8:00pm on Wednesday evening.

You know what? Full disclosure: as the night drew nearer, I got quite excited. I’d told Claire to tell him I’d be wearing this tight-ish black dress; not so tight that I couldn’t gorge on Carbonara without feeling like it was going to burst, but tight enough that it accentuated the shape of my body quite flatteringly. You know, the sort of thing that’d make the Daily Mail say I’d “poured my curves into a sultry LBD”, rather than “risked an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction”. She said he’d be wearing a deep blue shirt and black jeans. Noted.

When I arrived, ten minutes ahead of schedule, I took my coat off and made sure my outfit was fully visible. I grabbed a table quite near the door and sat so I was facing it: I wanted to stare at everyone as they came in and catch his eye straight away, saving any of that awkward faff where you’re not quite sure who you’re meant to approach. It got to five to eight and I was getting really nervous, like sweaty-palms nervous. Need-a-poo nervous. Any minute now, I thought.

And right then, right at the worst possible time, in swans my bloody dad. Obviously I’d shot myself in the foot because I was looking straight at the door, staring at the sodding door; and he looked at me with surprise and gave me this big goofy smile, and I was smiling too because I hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks, but this really was the worst possible time for him to make an appearance. He came over, we hugged, we said hey, we made small talk, and of course – of course! – out of the corner of my eye I saw someone else come in behind him. Someone in a DEEP BLUE SHIRT. And damn it, I thought, He’s gonna see me talking to dad and not realise I’m who he’s looking for!

But it didn’t matter. Blue Shirt made a beeline for a pack of rowdy blokes in the corner, and I figured he wasn’t the guy I was waiting for. Still, though, I needed dad to clear off. Not just away from the table, not just away from me, but away from the restaurant. I couldn’t have any kind of date with a parent there, let alone a blind date.

I decided to be honest and ask him nicely to leave, but when I looked back at him, his face was white as a sheet. I thought he was going to pass out. ‘You alright, dad?’, I asked, and he tried to answer but he couldn’t quite do it; he couldn’t get his words out. And I know this is bad, I know I should have been thinking about his wellbeing, but the only thing going through my head at that point was, oh crap, my date’s going to walk in and I’ll be here, hovering over my dad in the midst of a heart attack. Like, ‘Oh, hey, I’m Becky, nice to meet you. I’ll be with you in a moment, just waiting to see if my dad’s dying. Two secs’.

But then it hit me. He was wearing a blue shirt. Dad was wearing a deep blue shirt. With black jeans. And he’d presumably been stunned into silence by the realisation that I was – just like Claire had told him – wearing a tight-ish black dress.

He was my date. My own bloody dad was my date. Jules! Julian! FUCKING CLAIRE.

Later that night, after I’d sent her a carefully worded but unmistakably furious text, I found out she’s a new accountant at my dad’s office, and she’d somehow managed to out-Claire herself to the point where she’d set us up with each-other. ‘Us’ as in father and daughter. She didn’t know: my dad and her both insist there was no way she could have known, but that’s not the point. The point is she stuck her big wooden spoon where it wasn’t welcome, gave it a big old Jessie J-soundtracked stir and made a spectacular mess. Everyone on the team thinks I’m over-reacting and only being moody with her because I’m embarrassed. Which I am, of course; I haven’t been that embarrassed since I was in Year 3 and pissed myself watching the fire bit in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But I knew it! I knew she was too confident and meddly for her own good and now I can prove it! I have the proof!

Anyway, in the restaurant I thought about laughing it off and having some nice dinner with my dad but it was far too weird. My cleavage was too obvious; his cologne too prominent. It was excruciatingly clear that we each had big ideas about where the night could have gone if our dates had played their cards right, assuming they hadn’t turned out to be an immediate relative. So we just hurried through some polite goodbyes, agreed never to speak of it again and left as quickly as we possibly could.

Claire has apologised. I think she feels really bad about it. And I know she was only trying to help; trying to prove her worth, trying to make herself useful and important and maybe on some level valued, or validated.

But sod it. I’m going to hate her for a little while longer.

> Short film: Circulation
> First bit of another story

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