(He) Said, (She) Said

"(He) Said, (She) Said" is the story about Danny and Meredith, two college friends who meet up for a drink...and things go too far. Danny misses the last Tube home.

They end up back in Meredith's dorm room, but what exactly happened next? Is consent a matter of opionion, clear as crystal or clear as mud?

Would they ever meet up again?


First page

Here is the opening page of the story, now available in Buy Books as part of Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

Have you ever crossed a line of decency?

The Man in the Gray Tie


"(He) Said, (She) Said"
 
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Eleanor Roosevelt


I was worried you wouldn’t come at all,” he said, holding back the door of the pub against the rain.

“I got your last text,” she said. “I wasn’t going to be long.”

He sat down on the edge of his seat, and she glanced down at his pint. “Refill?”

“Ah, sure. Need a hand?”

“I can manage.”

As she walked by, her waist at his eyeline, he felt a slight out of body experience, adrenaline maybe, or his skin cooling in the draft from the door. She was attractive, more than he’d remembered. At twenty-two, she was probably two years younger than him, but that hardly mattered now they’d graduated, did it? He twisted his left wrist under cupped fingertips, realizing he’d left his wristwatch at home. Was he nervous because a social interaction was in progress, a first date? It’s not like he hadn’t had dates or girlfriends before, and yet a voice inside insisted—but rarely with an old school friend. Ha, it’s nothing more than excitement, and cradling his pint, he took a sip and loosened his tie.

Refill?

Her voice lingered in mid-air, a kind of husky baritone. But it was the way Meredith walked—with purpose, swinging her bottom more than her hips—that gave his ears an invisible flush. Nodding for their drinks at the bar, she pushed back her hair for twenty seconds before glancing back at him. There it was—that feeling of no longer needing to try, of sitting back and being rewarded. All he needed to do was be charming, a gentleman. What was that word—affable? He’d already passed whatever test she’d set him.

Yes, this was the opening moment.

There she was: Meredith Kifer. He hadn’t really liked her at school. She was in a different clique (he specialized in bit-parts in Theatre Club, mostly to catch sight of girls given he didn’t get invited to their parties). She was always pudgy, easy to ignore, though very sporty and not exactly quiet. He was the quiet one. To be fair, he still was. It’s funny how things don’t change that much.

“Nil nil! Spurs have held off the Gunners again….” He was distracted by the drone of the pub TV. The scores were being announced, starring the usual suspects, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United and City; the North London Derby between Tottenham and Arsenal had ended in a no score draw. Somehow football didn’t seem important. His attention drifted back to her, ‘Merry’ Meredith Kifer. He never really thought he’d see her again, not after that New Year’s party. That was so random, sleeping on a sofa together ‘tops and tails,’ as she called it. Somehow he’d known—even then—a second act would follow, and hopefully a third. A teenage sleep-over sets a precedent, however slow-burning.

Danny downed the rest of his drink, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He stared at the back of Meredith’s head just as she lifted her foot, the short heel slipping out, and scratched her opposite Achilles heel. An unconscious move, somewhere between sexiness, impatience and ordinary habit. Like the schoolgirl who always knew, she raised her hand for drinks, straining on tiptoes.

Meanwhile in Danny’s mind’s eye, a single image from that same party hovered. The word ‘Merry’ was tacked to the wall in a low-slung arc of neon in someone’s bedroom, just ‘Merry’ without the ‘Christmas.’ Adjacent was a cheap print-out of Meredith’s neck and shoulders, a pair of breasts scribbled weightily underneath in black ink. Was she ‘Merry’ from that moment on, and somewhat meanly pinned? Or was it a holiday joke, a good-humored homage to her sense of fun, a new nickname? Either way, her star had risen a little higher in the school’s popularity games. A nickname was a prize, a badge of dishonor, the currency of acceptance and genuine worth, like coveted football stickers in an infants’ playground.

Danny spun his empty glass on the table. He stared down at the dissolving last bubbles, more like James Mason in Odd Man Out than Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, more cautious than preoccupied. Should a girl be known as ‘Merry’? He’d have to ask how she got stuck with the name. She’d lived up to it since New Year’s Eve, according to the London graduate grapevine, her confidence now matched by more daring clothes—half heels and neck scarves—but the effect was more ‘good time girl plus education’ than sophisticate or debutante. ‘Merry’ Meredith didn’t seem to notice or care. Besides, that was all last year’s news. She could be a totally different person by now.

Daniel Blount looked up again, clicking his tongue with familiarity, across the Wessex Arms. It was the usual ten-to-ten Wednesday night crowd: a few punters at the end of the bar, a clearly-teenage couple hypnotized by each other’s squinty gaze on the two-seater by the fireplace, an elderly lady rattling a cheap scotch in the alcove by the door. A Pekinese dog sat curled up in a wicker chair, its breathing uncertain. Danny’s eyes trailed over the sticky floor and green wallpaper, over the faux-funny portraits of aristocratic dogs playing pool with coquettish cats common to many British pubs, to the huddled feet of standing clientele not wanting to go home, back to the bar, back to her.

Only a minute had passed since their greeting. She was now hanging over the bar, half kneeling on a stool.

“A pint of Spitfire please, and a half of Courage,” she nodded at the beer taps. “No, make it a pint.”

“You sure about that?”

“Actually, I’ll take a bottle of wine, plus the Courage. The house white. I’m sorry, okay, make it a Chardonnay.”

The barman didn’t reply but surveyed her while pulling the pints, his forearm draped with the tattoo of a werewolf, its fangs screaming in the comic exuberance of An American Werewolf in London. The tattoo had faded dark green, its blood drops miniature daggers, but his ‘ink’ did nothing to distract Meredith. She was texting her boyfriend, finger and thumb walking the keys like tiny tarantulas.

Suddenly her mascara jumped up and she caught the barman watching. Rather than frown her discomfort or look down, she smiled.

“I’ll need a tray.”

“No problem, miss. One tic.”

The next second, she was approaching their table. Danny scooted over and helped arrange the drinks, including her bulbous wine glass. They shook hands and laughed, commented on the weather, the décor, the barman’s taste in body art—and all was well in the world of booze.

The time passed, as it would have anyway. Quiet sipping over, steady mouthfuls began and fifteen minutes later the conversation hit its stride.

Digging a little deeper, they shared updates of former school friends from St. Margaret’s. Who was in London, Europe, or America? Someone in their school year had joined the American Blue Angels, the equivalent of the British Red Arrows. Someone else, a girl with frizzy red hair Danny recalled, was busy training bears in Qinghai Province, China.

“If anyone’d be doing that, it’d be her,” Meredith said.

“Beats the usual skydiving off Ayers Rock.”

“Like your office mates, you mean?” She pretended to scrutinize him. “And since when was scaling Ayers Rock usual?”

“Now hang on.”

“Should I call you Pom, mate?” Extending her joke, Meredith’s eyebrows lifted higher, stretching her eyeliner. “High time you went to Oz, mate.”

“I wish.”

“I know what you HSBC types are like. Always running round, hitting up the City nightspots.”

“You mean the West End.”

“I just mean…in spirit. You guys are all party, all the time. All fur coat and no knickers.”

The expression struck him as lurid, an odd choice. What is it the Americans said? ‘All hat and no cattle.’ Was that him?

“You mean Leicester Square, or Shaftsbury Av. There aren’t any nightclubs in the City.”

“I mean Westminster, darling,” she said, feigning a giggle and leaning over her beer. “What does HSBC stand for anyway?”

“You don’t know?”

“Why would I be asking? Do you know what UBS stands for then?”

Danny looked sideways, the corner of his mouth curling. “Actually, I don’t. But it’s Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation.”

“UBS?”

“Yes, UBS.”

Their laughter brought a pause as though to say ‘we’re having fun now,’ and ‘consequently, what now?’

Meredith emptied her beer, set it down with a clink. “More please, maestro.”

“We don’t have long before closing,” Danny said, kicking himself internally for dulling the mood but feeling it might push things forward. “I have to make the last Tube. From Goodge Street,” he added, as though she might calculate distance over time.

“They have a late license. Where have you been? All bars do.”

“This one still closes at regular hours, in the week.”

“Come here a lot, do you?” she said, wondering if she was charming or starting to bug him.

 

To Be Continued


Read on

To learn more about (the three stories in) Trio 1, see The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

For the opening page to Story 1, see "The Man in the Gray Tie."

For the opening page to Story 3, see "The Last Page of Friendship."


Video

For the video to "(He) Said, (She) Said," see Video 2.


Buy

To buy Trio 1, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes, see Buy Books.