The Ugly Duckling

There’s a scene in almost every war film. The hero sneaks up on the unsuspecting enemy guard, grabs his chin and SNAP!

Terri did that. She’d walk down the road and men would snap their head around as she passed them. I don’t think anyone actually died as a result, but I wonder how many car crashes she caused. I know for a fact she caused minor bruises and contusions as wives and girlfriends smacked their distracted partners.

I don’t know why she had that effect. I have some photos of her. Oh, nothing creepy, just snaps from my phone when the crowd were out on a Saturday night. But she didn’t look all that, not on film. She was an attractive girl, pretty face and a good body, but she wouldn’t grace the inside pages of the tabloids. Some people are photogenic, others not so much, I guess. But in the flesh….

In the flesh a man’s jaw would drop and his power of speech disappear. She walked through life like a comet, a tail of dust caught in her wake, because that was all we were in the face of a goddess. Looking back now, I can see why a club was never too full for us, a restaurant always had a table, a gig always had seats. I just thought that was the way it was, but it was because of her.

The weird thing was, she never seemed to notice. She blushed when someone paid her a compliment; she bought her own drinks; she was surprised at the sudden kindness of strangers. She was one of the gang, just an amazingly attractive one.

There were six of us, fresh out of college, employed, single, happy. We’d Facebook during the day, text in the evenings and party at the weekend. Why not? The world was ours. We had our own in-jokes, as gangs do, our own group personality, our own dynamic. Joe was the clown, Martin the charmer, Anne the wit, Jane the giggler. Me? I was just happy to be included. And then there was Terri, the sun we all orbited.

We were at Amadeus. It was the tackiest club we knew, and that was what made the evenings there so funny. Joe and Anne would make up imagined conversations between people at the bar for our entertainment.

“Hi, I’m Eduardo. Do not be alarmed at my 1970’s shirt.”

“Hello Eduardo. I am normally frigid, but that moustache makes me feel so slutty.”

“Yes, I call it Raymond. He has his own website.”

The rest of us would splutter over our drinks and laugh till the tears came.

Someone, I forget who, bet Martin he couldn’t collect five phone numbers, and the others accompanied him to make sure he didn’t cheat. Terri and I stayed at the table. I moved over to the chair next to her and leaned in close so I didn’t have to shout so loud.

“I wish I was as smooth as Martin.”

“No you don’t. The novelty of having sex with a different woman each night would soon wear off.”

“Yeah, but I’m willing to risk that.”

“No, you’re too nice.”

“Don’t say that. That’s a horrible thing to say. Nice guys never get the girl.”

“Aw. Listen, if it helps, I’ll tell everyone you’re a bastard. Better?”

“Much, thanks. I appreciate it.”

We sat back and giggled. I leant in again, heart suddenly thumping and my stomach about to turn inside out.

“Say, what are you doing Tuesday night?”

“Me? Nothing. Why?”

“I thought we could go out for something to eat. You know, a meal. Together, sort of thing.”

She shook her head.

“No, I think Anne has Pilates on a Tuesday.”

“No, I don’t mean us,” I said, waving my hand in the air to include the gang. ” I mean us us. You and me. Us. I thought, maybe, you and me, we could go grab a bite on Tuesday. Maybe Italian. Or not, whatever type of food you want, only I know you like pasta.”

Inside I curled up and died. What was I doing? I had suddenly stopped being me and become a babbling idiot.

“Us?” She frowned, puzzled.

“Yes, us.”

“Why?”

Could there ever have been such a cruel put down? The fact she obviously didn’t mean it to be one made it all the worse.

“Why? So we can enjoy each other’s company. So we can get to know each other better. If you feed me enough wine, I might even let you cop a feel, but you have to promise me you’ll respect me in the morning.”

She laughed, suddenly and freely, as though I had a moustache called Raymond. Inside I wept, but my face formed a rictus grin. Hope burns eternal, and all that.

“Well? What do you say?”

She stopped laughing and her expression went from amused to quizzical to pained.

“Stop it,” she said.

“What?”

“You know what. Don’t tease. It’s not nice.”

“No, I mean it. Why not? We already know each other. We like each other. That’s most of what the first few dates are about anyway. So why not?”

“Is this one of Joe’s stupid bets?”

“Of course not.”

She looked out over the dance floor. I followed her gaze. Martin was talking earnestly to a girl at the bar. The others stood nonchalantly by, whispering behind hands and sniggering.

“Why not ask Jane? She’d probably say yes.”

“Because I want to go out with you.”

“Why?”

“Why?” The question dumbfounded me. Why does rain fall down and not up? Why do wrong numbers always answer the phone? Some questions were just so basic they defied answer.

“Yes. Why me?”

“Because you’re gorgeous. I mean, you’re fun to be with, I like you, but, yeah, you are drop dead, honest to goodness, twenty-four carat gorgeous.”

“Stop it.”

“What? It’s true, you know it is.”

“Yeah? How many times this evening has some guy come up to Jane and asked her for a dance or offered her a drink.”

“I don’t know.”

“Five.”

“You count?”

“And Anne?”

“Seven hundred and twenty-three?”

“It might as well be. And me?”

I shook my head. “More?”

“None! You know how many asked me last week? None! My sister Mary, she’s had boyfriends queuing at the door since she was fourteen. Now, she’s gorgeous. She always was. But me? Do you know how many boyfriends I’ve had?”

I shook my head again.

“One. I’m twenty-two, and I’ve only ever had one boy ask me out, and he dumped me after a few weeks.”

“I won’t,” I said. Would it seem too desperate to drop to one knee and swear a lifetime of fidelity?

She sighed. “Listen, it’s nice of you to ask. Really, it is. But you don’t have to be nice, not to me.”

“Nice? I’m not. I’m a bastard, remember? And you want to know why men don’t ask you out? Really? Because you’re out of their league. It’s fear, Terri, pure unadulterated terror. No guy asks you out because he knows someone as gorgeous as you wouldn’t waste their time on mere mortals. You have no idea the months I’ve taken to screw up the courage. Jeez, Terri, how on Earth could someone be as beautiful as you and think she was ugly? That’s insane.”

She smiled, so sadly I wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool. She put her hand on the side of my face.

“You know, for a bastard, you tell the sweetest lies. Thank you. Listen, I’ve got a headache coming. Tell the others goodbye for me, will you?”

I should have gone with her. I should have grabbed her by the wrist, whirled her round and kissed her until she believed me. I should have done huge, romantic things. I shouldn’t have just sat there and watch her drift across the floor. Two men scrabbled to be the one that opened the door for her, and then she was gone.

She didn’t come out with us the next weekend, nor the next. Her Facebook went quiet, the texts slowly dried up, and then we were five. Jane did go out on a couple of dates with me in the end, so Terri was right about that.

I still have some photos of her on my phone. They don’t do her justice. Nor does the one in the local paper. It was her graduation photo, stiff, formal, and nowhere near as beautiful as she was in real life. She left a note, the paper said. The police were not looking for anyone else in connection with her death.

I feel I should turn myself in anyway.

Advertisements

About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: