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This is one of those stories that started with the love scene and evolved out of that. I have no idea what happens next but I am thinking this might turn out to be longer than I planned but let’s just see where we wind up.
The tram lumbering along Gertrude Street came to a sudden stop as a drunken man in his forties lurched out in front of it waving his hands and shouting something in fluent Drunkenese. The tram driver rang the bell frantically to no avail as the man continued gesticulating, he pirouetted slowly to the applause of two teenagers whilst a more civic-minded man stepped onto the road, holding out his hand to stop traffic as he yelled at the man to get off the road.
“But for the grace of God,” Stella murmured as she glanced at her phone, it had beeped six times in the last fifteen minutes but only one of the notifications had brought a smile to her face.
Evie: I’m almost there, are we still meeting in the Builders Arms?
Stella: We sure are, I’m in a window seat, wearing a black suit.
Evie’s reply was a simple thumbs up so she didn’t know what Evie was wearing but she had the picture on her phone that showed a twenty-something woman with dark brown hair and brown skin. She looked as if she came from Asian stock, she had the right colouring but features were distinctly Caucasian.
Stella’s eyes shifted as three people exited the tram, two were men but the third was a woman in a light grey skirt suit and pink blouse. She held her hair back against the wind gusting down the street bringing the dust and grime from other parts of the city. A Coke can rolled past her feet and she stepped around it as she looked up and down the street, finally spotting the creamy exterior of the pub where Stella was sitting. She glanced at the front of the tram as a second man crossed the street to help the good Samaritan trying to get the drunk off the road. A few moments later she crossed the street to the pavement and swinging right, walked towards the pub. Stella studied her as she came past the window, she wasn’t looking at the windows as she headed for the door.
The woman entered a few moments later and stopped in the doorway as she looked around but had to step out of the way as three women came in after her. Two of the women were gay, judging by the fact they were hand in hand, the third woman was probably a friend or maybe their nominated driver. The woman in the grey suit suddenly noticed Stella and for a split second Stella thought she was going to turn around and walk out, she looked like she was walking on eggshells but then she stepped forward and closed the distance between them.
Stella closed her laptop and rose to greet her.
“I’m Stella,” she held out her hand, “and you must be,” she waited.
“Evie,” Evie’s hand slipped into hers and Stella felt the softness of her skin against hers but then she noticed the diamond ring on her ring finger, “I’m sorry I’m late, I was held up at work.”
“That’s cool,” she let go of her hand, “I’m on the lolly water,” she nodded at the Coke, “but if you want a beer or something stronger?”
“Lemon squash,” she sat down, “I rarely drink, usually at weddings and twenty firsts.”
“Lemon squash it is,” Stella drained the last of her Coke, “be right back.”
Stella had time to think as she waited for the barmaid to get to her. Evie had put the curious status on her online profile as well as single, but right now she felt almost at a loss. Stella didn’t consider herself technophobic, but despite an active social media profile, Stella had always viewed online dating sites and apps as just the modern version of Ring a Root. In days gone past she’d seen girls names and numbers scrawled on pub toilet walls under the title Ring a Root, not that you rang those numbers. They were almost always put up there by people wanting to get their revenge on an ex girlfriend.
“What’ll it be?”
“Huh, oh a lemon squash and a, make that two lemon squashes.”
“Two lemon squashes coming up,” the barmaid’s eyes narrowed.
“Thanks,” Stella propped on the bar.
From this position she could observe the front door and her table at the same time. Evie had her back to her, she was leaning over her phone and tapping it. As if sensing Stella’s attention, she glanced over her shoulder and offered her a slight smile before returning to her phone. Stella went over her rehearsed lines and slowly discarded them all. Her sponsor had once told her that mental projection was common to everyone but only alcoholics turned it into a religion.
Live for today, live and let live, Stella let the words filter through her.
“There you go,” the barmaid put the glasses down.
As Stella paid for the drinks, the drunk who’d been pulled from the front of the tram lurched through the front door as if he’d been pushed. The barmaid signalled to a large Maori at the other end of the bar, the Maori however was already moving, relatively quickly considering his bulk. He reached the man just as Stella handed over her money, fatih escort and grabbing the man’s shirt collar, spun him around. He then grabbed his waistband and lifting him as easily as a rag doll, half carried and half walked him out into the street whilst the man’s arms flailed helplessly.
Evie had noticed the eviction and Stella read the doubt in her eyes as she placed the drinks on the table.
“It’s nothing he can’t handle, this is actually a decent pub, unless you’re already pissed when you walk in.”
“My housemate said this used to be a real dive.”
“Before my time,” Stella sat down, “mind you, this whole area had a reputation.”
“So they say,” Evie sipped her drink.
“So, you work at the Swedish consulate,” Stella studied her for a moment, “are you Swedish?”
“No,” she replied, “I work at the Swedish consulate but it’s a non consular position, I’m the front desk girl.”
“Now that’s a country I’ve always wanted to visit,” Stella smiled, “along with a few hundred other countries. I’m afraid the only countries I’ve been to are Bali and America, and both times I rarely left the bars. What about you?”
“Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Britain and next year I’m going to Amsterdam.”
“That’s not a country,” Stella chuckled, “sorry, bad joke.”
“I know,” Evie smirked, “but some people argue it should be, it’s certainly different.”
“Why Amsterdam? Just out of curiosity.”
“I hear so much about it, the red light district, the dope cafés, and the bicycles. Copenhagen is pretty much bike crazy but they say Amsterdam is even more so,” she took another sip.
Stella opened her mouth to say something but then changed her mind and shut her mouth, she had another mouthful of lemon squash and glanced out the window at the overcast sky. The weather bureau had been forecasting rain all day but apart from a brief lunchtime shower there had been nothing since.
“You’re not what I thought,” Evie finally spoke up.
“What do you mean?” Stella looked over the rim of her glass.
“You’re different,” she replied, “when you said you were gay I kind of expected the usual thing, someone who’s a little, what’s the word?”
“I wasn’t going to use that word,” Evie blushed.
“It’s a word,” Stella replied, “we use it ourselves to describe each other, butch, lipstick lesbo, sometimes we are just taking the piss but other times we’re insulting each other. I don’t go in for the political correctness, I mean it’s fine in theory and we should be sensitive but taken to extremes it just flies in ever decreasing circles until it swallows itself.”
“That’s a good way of putting it,” Evie chuckled.
Stella didn’t reply as she glanced once more at the ring on her finger and then her eyes moved up to her face. Evie was twenty three on her profile, living in the outer eastern suburbs. She worked at the Swedish consulate in Melbourne and had two sisters. She loved travel, reading, netball and walking her dog, not always in that order. She was straight but also curious, she didn’t smoke and rarely drank, she identified as politically progressive and open minded.
“So you’re a lawyer,” Evie went on, “what kind of law?”
“Um, civil cases for the most part, property disputes and accident claims but we’ve also branched out into immigration, we take on the Department of Immigration. I’m not there yet, we’ve only got a few cases on the books but if it gets bigger then I’ll get my own cases,” she glanced at the laptop for a moment.
“That’s what I was doing while I was waiting for you, reading up on immigration law.”
“That’s interesting,” Evie propped on her palm, “my mum was an immigrant, she was four when she came here from Vietnam with my grandmother. Mum married a white Australian, so I’m mixed race and don’t ask me if I speak Vietnamese. I am learning Swedish though.”
Stella nodded and glanced at her hand.
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Sure, ask away,” she replied.
“The ring on your finger, it looks almost like an,” she stopped.
“An engagement ring,” Evie raised her hand for her to have a closer look.
“It’s got sentimental value but it’s very practical. It was the only thing my grandmother took with her when she left Vietnam on a leaky boat. She was engaged to some American G.I at the time but he’d gone back to America when Saigon fell, she kept the ring in case he decided to bring her over to America but he found someone else and she married a Laotian man. I wear it because it keeps guys from chatting me up,” she smiled.
“All I do is hold up my hand and the conversation changes direction.”
“Oh,” Stella felt a surge of relief, “I used to wear an old wedding ring I bought at a pawnshop years ago but I was younger and quite drunk at the time.”
“Someone suggested a wedding ring,” she nodded, “but that might get complicated, I would have to come up with some cover story and all I want to do is keep them away,” she paused.
“Quid etiler escort pro quo, can I ask you a personal question?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“You’re a lawyer, so you’ve probably got more money than me. Why are you drinking lemon squash?”
There were any number of excuses she could have used. AA members had told her to just say she was driving, she had an allergy to alcohol, she wasn’t drinking today or she had to drive, which was actually a good excuse. Instead she took the plunge and outed herself.
“I’m a sober alcoholic,” she admitted, “five years last month, I drank for ten years. Had my first at the age of fifteen behind the gym at school and my last in an alley off Flinders Lane with some dirty old man I’d bumped into earlier in the day. I had a false start when I walked out of rehab and right back into a pub but then I got serious and decided to do something about the program.”
Stella finished abruptly and waited for Evie to make an excuse about how she had to get home but instead her eyes had widened appreciably.
“Wow, that’s what I call outing yourself,” she studied her, “my uncle on my dad’s side is in the fellowship. He’s been around for thirty years but he always says he’s just one drink away from a drunk.”
“What’s his name?”
“Peter,” she replied.
“There’s a lot of guys called Peter in the fellowship,” she replied.
“It’d be a common name,” she sucked on the straw, “I think they call him Lilydale Peter.”
The man’s face flashed in her mind’s eye and she stared at her. There was no family resemblance but she had always been wary of the grizzled old Vietnam veteran.
“Well I’ll be fucked,” Stella leaned back in her seat, “so you’re Peter’s niece?”
She let her eyes play over the pink blouse, it was made of silk and had a double row of black buttons either side of an embroidered placket that depicted a rose and elongated swirls, but what made it really stand out was the faux bowtie that had a silver laurel wreath attached to it.
“Yeah,” she replied, “that doesn’t break some rule does it?”
“Um, no, the only rules we have are about dating people in the fellowship and even those are more like suggestions than rules. I don’t date in the fellowship because I’ve been burned there once and don’t want to go back there.”
“I’ve heard him talk about the thirteenth step.”
“She wasn’t a thirteenth step,” Stella replied, “we both came in at the same time and started going out together but my sponsor told me to take it easy. We parted not long after and two years later she was out again, I’ve seen her once at a meeting looking a lot worse so it’s a good thing we never kept it going.”
“It must make the dating pool pretty small.”
“Well that’s why I decided to try my luck online,” Stella inclined her head, “it’s not like I can’t be in a pub but I can’t afford to go looking for women in pubs. I mean, we’re here because you suggested the place but if I wouldn’t come in here looking for anyone, it’s not a habit I want to cultivate.”
Evie took another mouthful of squash.
“So, you’d rather be somewhere else?”
“I’m easy,” she shrugged, “here is fine but I’m bloody peckish.”
“Me too,” she traced a finger around the rim of her glass.
“You live in the outer east,” Stella spoke up, “and I’m in Elwood but my car is parked in the underground carpark at work.”
“We could catch a tram back into town and go out for dinner, after that I’ll either drop you at Flinders Street or run you home. It’s just dinner, no ties, no obligations and we can feed our faces and get to know each other a bit better.”
Evie looked hesitant and Stella glanced across the room at the door leading to the toilets.
“I’ve got to go for a piss, so maybe think about it while I’m gone or call a friend,” she looked at her laptop, “but if you’re really not up for it tell me now, I don’t want to leave this behind.”
“Okay what? You’ll think about coming out for dinner or you’ll come out for dinner?”
“The second one,” she flicked at her hair, “I’ll go for a piss after you but.”
After she’d attended to a call of nature, Stella examined herself in the mirror as she washed her hands. They said that alcohol was a great preservative and if that was the case, then her looks had been pretty well preserved. She had an angular shaped face with a firm jawline and clean skin, her eyes were brown and when she smiled, dimples appeared and it was obvious she looked after her teeth. Her hair however was her finest asset, natural blonde hair that hung in cascading waves past her shoulderblades. It was tied up at the moment in a bun to expose her slim neck.
This morning she’d donned a black, three piece, pinstripe suit along with a silver, satin blouse with a matching satin tie tied off in a pussybow. The result was professional and chic. After she’d dried her hands, Stella pulled the pins and clasp from her hair and brushed it, emerging from the toilet some three minutes beşiktaş escort later looking a little less formal.
Evie’s eyes widened as Stella returned to their table.
“That looks better,” she made to get up, “less, um, severe.”
“I put it up when I’m in court, it looks more scary.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” she rose, “be right back.”
While she was in the toilet, Stella texted her sponsor, Janine.
Stella: Going out on a date, wish me luck.
Janine: Is this an actual date, with flowers and chocolate?
Stella: Ha ha, too old for flowers but chocolates would be nice.
Janine: So, who is she?
Stella: She’s Lilydale Peter’s niece.
Janine: WTF? Wow, who knew it was such a small world. I’ve never heard him mention extended family before.
Stella: Me neither, she’s not that way inclined but she’s curious.
Janine: Okay, so take it one day at a time. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, just go easy.
Stella: Preaching to the converted here, we’re going out for dinner and then I’ll drop her at the station or home.
Janine: Sounds good! I’ll be home if you need to talk.
Stella: No meeting tonight?
Janine: I was going to go tonight but the thought of putting up with Georgie and Vicki just turns my gut inside out. I could go to Box Hill but Lynne has decided to cook tonight and the kids have gone to their father’s for the rest of the week.
Stella glanced up as Evie reappeared.
Stella: While you see a chance take it, I gotta go, text you later. xxx.
“I have a proposal for you,” Evie sat down again.
“A proposal, so soon?” Stella smiled and then slapped her own forehead, “sorry, wandering mind again, go ahead.”
“If you pay for the meal,” she eyed her phone as it beeped, “I’ll give you some petrol money to run me back home.”
“Oh, okay, sure.”
“It’s just that you sound interesting and I’d be too busy checking my phone in case I miss the last train back to Nunawading.”
“No worries,” Stella glanced at her drink, “well, let’s blow this shithole and get back to the city then.”
The tram ride back to the city was relatively quiet. Evie pointed out the Fitzroy gardens though because she’d had a chicken and champagne breakfast the weekend after she finished high school.
“I was going out with Tony then. His dad is part owner of a hotel in the city and he paid for all the booze.”
“Kind of,” she looked a little hesitant, “we were going out together but we broke up after I left school and went to Tafe.”
“Not your kind?”
Evie glanced around for a moment before replying.
“Let’s just say he wanted to go a lot further and I wasn’t prepared to go that far with him.”
She could have asked more but changed her mind as Evie looked almost embarrassed at this candid admission. The tram rumbled and creaked its way down Swanston Street and Stella pushed the stop button when it neared Lonsdale Street.
“This is as good a place as any, unless you’d like to go further?”
“This is okay,” Stella nodded.
The threatened rain started falling as they made their way towards Chinatown. She stifled a curse as they turned into Little Bourke Street and Evie looked warily upwards as they walked.
“Any allergies I need to be aware of?”
“None,” she pulled a small umbrella out of her shoulder bag, “although pickled herring can make me gag, I’ve never had anything so disgusting.”
“Sounds, ominous,” Stella picked up her pace, “well, plenty to choose from.”
Evie merely nodded as she pressed the button to extend the umbrella but just as she was about to open it Stella ushered her towards a Thai restaurant.
“This’ll do,” she opened the door.
They took a table at the window and just as they sat down the heavens opened up and they were treated to the sight of people scurrying for cover or pulling jackets over their heads.
“We made it just in time,” she murmured as Evie took out her phone and snapped a random shot.
“It’s for my Instagram account,” she explained, “I have friends in Sweden who don’t believe that we get a lot of rain in Melbourne,” she started tapping her screen.
“So now and then I snap a picture of rain in Melbourne and upload it to Instagram with the hashtag rainy Melbourne.”
“Do you get many likes?”
“Plenty of likes and when I posted up a video clip of a hailstorm I got a heap of likes and quite a few WTFs,” she looked up, “what the fuck.”
“I know what that means.”
“Here,” she pushed the phone across the table, “have a swipe through my pictures.”
It was both exciting and yet disconcerting to see where she’d been. Evie might be twenty three years old but she’d certainly travelled widely throughout Scandinavia, Britain and even Australia. She was by her own admission, a happy snapper.
“Most of the time I don’t put much thought into what I’m taking pictures of, I bought this Huawei phone just to take pictures.”
“So you’re not worried about Chinese spies?”
“Spy all they want,” she sipped the Coke the waitress had just brought them, “besides our own government is doing enough spying for all of us.”
“You must have met some amazing people.”
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