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She needed a drinkthat scratchy thirst that proceeds from a desire for oblivion rather than rehydrationfrom wanting to be not-Anna for an hour, or maybe the shiny, funny Anna rather than the gauche, hopeless version. The gauche, hopeless version was intolerable now, at six o'clock, outside the office, between the office and the pub, looking down at the hot, gummy pavements, at her sweaty toes peeking from the slingbacks, at the coral varnish.
She relived, with creeping dread, that horrible lunch hour faux pas, almost choking on the chicken when she realised that it was Rob and not Liam who sent the e-mail about the date, having to splutter and blurt something about having a prior engagement, having to go back to the office and face Liam after all the flirty innuendoes and doe eyes of the morning. He must think she was mad. Her face was hot again just thinking of it; a little death repeating itself in her soul.
But a cocktail in the cool plate-glass bar, smart and urban, so she could be a sophisticate again, would cure all that. Mimi couldn't come, but this was 2011 and a woman could drink alone at a bar now, surely. If she kept an eye on her drink. If she didn't catch a man's eye. If she folded herself away into the shape of a bar stool or a chalkboard. Yeah, a woman could drink alone in a bar.
No, a woman could not drink alone in a bar. Not when she pushed the plate-glass door and walked two steps in and saw Rob holding a war conference in a corner with the harpies from Ad Planning, and he had seen her and he knew that she'd lied to him. And she would never be able to go back to work, not ever, unless she wore a T-shirt with Pariah emblazoned across the front because everyone loved Rob. Even though none of them would ever shag him.
There could be a way out though. There could be a way to elude this social suicide... At the bar, alone on a stool, in a sharp suit...
"I hope you don't think I'm awful, but could you pretend to know me? Please? Could you say hello, as if you've been expecting me or something?"
He tilted his head, smiled in a way that could be welcoming, and was certainly curious, leant forward and, in the pretence of an air kiss, whispered, "Take a seat."
Relief, conspiratorial excitement and embarrassment, all fought for ascendancy in Anna's fluttering chest, but thirst was the eventual winner.
"Can I get you a drink?"
"Oh God, I would kill for one. What a day. Oh, anything. What you're having will be fine. Thank you so much for this. You're saving my life."
He nodded at the bartender, and Anna had never seen this move work before, so she was fascinated when her glass of white wine appeared on the bar top before any words were exchanged. She looked properly at the man, feeling that he had somehow proven himself worthy of closer inspection, but she couldn't draw any firm conclusions from his appearance, save that he was wearing a very good suit, so he must have a very good job.
"It's all in a day's work." He smiled. He had the kind of smile that made the years fall away, and Anna saw what he looked like as a boy.
"Really? You're a superhero then?"
"No. I'm a hedge fund manager." Anna tried to look impressed, or fascinated, or at least knowledgeable. "You don't know what that is, do you?"
"No. Something in the City?"
"Yeah. That's about it. And what about you? What is this dire emergency that's so awful you have to call on me?"