It was strange driving to Portishead. Although I knew the way and exactly where we were like that back of my hand, throughout the entire journey, I couldn’t seem to work out for the life of me where I was. I was a little terrified of the speed at which he took some of the roads and at the prospect of what lay ahead, but I just seemed to zone out and not really be aware of what was going on. As we flew up the motorway, Ellie Goulding was playing gently in the background. Matt was shuffling through the tracks, showing me his favourites and explaining why. It was nice. You learnt a lot about a person through their musical tastes and to know that his were at least satisfactory was a mild relief. As we drove along, with Portishead in the distance on the left, Matt placed his hand on my thigh. At first I flinched. This was weird. Very weird. Touching. Intimacy. What did I do? Did I place my hand on top of his? Did I like it? Did I not? Did I leave it there? Gross. Sweaty palms – me not Matt. I was freaking out. This wassoweird. I sort of clenched at my elbows for a minute, to cool my hands down and remove some of the clamminess before wrapping my hands around his and tracing the lines of his fingers. He had big hands. He as a person wasn’t exactly small, so it was all in proportion.
Off the motorway, weaving our way through the streets of Portishead. Now I was lost. There was no turning back now. I had never been to Portishead in my life, so to get out and escape would have been impossible. I was beginning to wonder if this had really been a good idea after all. Breathe. Breathe. Deep breaths in and out. In and out. And smile. It was all going to be fine…
Eventually, we pulled into a residential area that must have been quite new. It was hard to tell with everything covered in snow and ice. As Matt attempted to park without slip sliding all over the place – to surprising success – we wandered over to a three story terraced house with French doors on the second floor that were open.
“¡Hola!” Matt hollered up to the residents of the house, “¿Como estas?”
Suddenly I was confused. It was clearly some kind of in joke, but even I was confused. Did he know any more Spanish? Could I have a conversation with him if I needed to speak without being understood? This was what I liked about being able to speak another language. Complete privacy if and when needed. The people on the second floor said something back, but I was trying so hard to stay upright that I couldn’t hear a word they said. We kept walking towards the front door and it was opened by a very friendly looking man who was quickly accompanied by another. I can’t quite remember in great detail, but I think it was Scott who greeted us, along with Chris. On seeing Chris, I truly died inside a little. You see, before I met Matthew, I had been talking to a series of other guys on an iPod app called Grindr. Now, on this app, one of the people that I just so happened to be talking to was… Chris. I couldn’t look. I was mortified. Having almost arranged to meet up with him just over a week ago, suddenly I was on the doorstep of a mutual friendwitha mutual friend, on a date. I couldn’t bear it. I stared at the ground, fixated, so as to not be recognised. And then it hit me. It suddenly dawned on me that I was going to be expected to have to remember people’s names. I hadn’t considered this when I had agreed to come. Names werenotmy forte. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The other issue I had not considered when agreeing to come here, was that I was going to have to take my shoes off. Walking boots with feet worth of lace, tied together in a double knot, wet and moderately frozen together. Somehow – and to this day I don’t know how this happened – I managed to untie my walking boots fairly quickly and didn’t keep everyone waiting. Thankfully, Matt waited for me, being a true gentleman. Going up the stairs I had to remind myself to breathe and relax. They’re just people after all.
Enter the living room. There were so many people. I froze a little bit. Shoved my hands firmly in my pockets and could feel myself tense up. Matt, with his bags of presents in tow, sat on the sofa and led back. Relaxed. A nervous smile around the room to everyone who was there from me. All of a sudden averymerry, shorter than me, quite round, almost bold fellow in a cream knitted sweater bounced into the room.
“Hello!” he exclaimed.
“Matt, this is Campbell, one of my best friends,” Matt informed me.
“Hello, hello, welcome! Matthew, darling, you didn’t tell me you were bringing a guest?”
Matt just smiled and shrugged. Campbell then turned to me.
“Would you like a drink? There’s plenty of wine, just help yourself.”
“Hi,” I replied, sheepishly, “I’m good thanks.” Out of politeness I extended a hand to shake his. He returned the favour, but with a surprised look in his eye.
“Are you straight?” he asked me, after letting go of my hand.
“No.” I replied, somewhat abruptly, but assertively.
“Well for goodness sake, come here then!” and to my utter surprise, he pulled me towards him, kissed me on each cheek and then threw his arms around me.
What happened next happened so fast I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. As Campbell threw himself upon me in a very welcoming hug, one of my bony elbows managed to knock a bottle of red wine that had been sitting on the side, off the side and onto the cream carpet. I hadn’t even noticed what had happened, or that the red wine was slowly but surely emptying itself onto the carpet and soaking into my sock. Campbell hadn’t either. And nor had anybody else, it seemed. Until I stepped back and kicked the bottle.
“Shit.” I murmured, finally noticing what had happened.
“Oh dear!” Campbell said, carelessly, “Don’t worry about it darling, it was completely my fault – just don’t let Scott see!”
And with that, he hurried out the living room. Nervous chatter ensued and I looked at Matt whose face said absolutely nothing. I, meanwhile, froze to the spot. Mortified, yet again. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up and never show me again to the world. I was still frozen there when Campbell re-entered the room with bleach and a towel. He began to scrub at the carpet and instructed me to just sit down and have a drink. I did indeed sit down, at this point. Next to Matt. I felt awful, like I should be the one cleaning, but no. I did as I was told. I didn’t want to do any more damage. Instead, I gazed longingly at the bottle of rosé wine that was sitting on the coffee table. No. I couldn’t drink. I don’t know why I told myself I couldn’t drink, but at the time, it seemed the most sensible option.
Thankfully, after a couple of minutes scrubbing with the towel, the red wine had almost entirely gone from the carpet. As Campbell got up and deposited the bleached towel and bleach back in the laundry room, Matt armed himself with presents ready for his return. First up was a present for Jamie – a Justin Bieber calendar, which they suggested he could… enjoy, if you get my drift. The next present I remember, although I’m sure there were others, was Campbell and Scott’s. To this present, there was a story attached – about Matt’s new found love of the Bear Factory. In case you hadn’t guessed, the present in question, was in fact a customised Bear Factory bear, designed specifically to look like both Campbell and Scott. Personally, I thought it was one of the best Christmas presents I had ever seen – that was until I found out what he got his Mum… Cam and Scott seemed to think it was a pretty awesome present as well, and they carefully placed the bear – whose name I can’t for the life of me remember – again, names, not my forte – back in the box. For what seemed like only a matter of minutes, but must have been longer as it was almost nine o’clock by the time we left, everyone chatted pleasantly amongst themselves. For the most part, I just observed, adjusting myself to an entirely new world. Occasionally, I talked with Cam and Matt, but I was somewhat overwhelmed by the whole situation and besides, before I knew it Matt was announcing that we were leaving and he needed to collect some stuff from Chris’. Wait. What. Collect. Chris’. House? NO! No, no, no, no, no, this couldnotbe happening. Obediently, I went downstairs and reattached the boots to my feet and followed Matt back to the car. We wound our way through the streets of the estate and pulled up outside a faux-Georgian looking house that was pleasant enough. Well, more than pleasant to be perfectly honest. I already knew that Chris worked the BBC – something I had discovered from our chats on Grindr – and so wasn’t overly surprised when Matt said that he needed to borrow a microphone. But the idea of going into Chris’ house was a little much… But I wasn’t about to stay in the car. Over to the house we went. Opened the door and this beautiful tabby cat jumped a million miles into another room. I decided I wasnottaking my boots off again. It was too much hassle. So I remained by the door, just peering about the house from my spot while Chris and Matt disappeared upstairs to get the microphone. They were talking, but I wasn’t listening. I stayed where I was and tried to coax the tabby out from its hiding place around the corner. Hyper-aware that I had mud all over my boots, I tried desperately hard not to move too much so as not to cause a mess. I was just stood there, well, crouched actually, talking to a tabby cat, in the house of someone who I used to flirt with who was a good friend of the guy I was now on a date with. Perfect.
When Matt and Chris reappeared from upstairs I got back into standing upright, as though I wasn’t some crazy cat lady who had been talking to a cat, looking all cool and collected, propped against the wall. It might have given it away that all was not so cool-as-a-cucumber when I practically ran out the house and launched myself into the car and strapped myself back in before Matt had even opened the door. As he finished saying his goodbyes to Chris, I just sat back and waited. Half of me wanted to run away and die in a hole, and half of me never wanted this night to end. It had been bizarrely perfect.