‘Guaranteed next day delivery’ turned out to be a horrible lie, which meant that the first opportunity I had to try on my symmetrical tight red dress was after work on Friday.
I took off my comfy bra and put on a really uncomfy g-string so I could wriggle into the damn thing, and then spent a full minute fruitlessly trying to pull the stretchy fabric further down my thighs. It kept springing back up, so I gave up and went to check myself out in a mirror.
Gosh, it was a shock. It looked like lingerie. Not only that, but my nipples stood out through the fabric, and it was so tight I could see my bellybutton. It was probably too tight for knickers, too, but there was no chance in hell I’d go commando in something this short. I didn’t need to prove to the entire bar that the drapes matched the carpet.
I chewed on my lip, examining my reflection. I mean, I guess I could imagine Sarah in this thing? It was a dress, after all, just not the kind of dress I ever wore. Then again, that probably explained why I’d been single for a thousand years.
Anyway, my ‘prude’ judgment couldn’t be trusted on this one. I snapped a mirror shot and texted it to Sarah for her opinion.
She gave it straight away. “Smoking hot!!! You’re going to have your pick of the guys next weekend!”
Yeah, ‘next weekend’, I thought, sighing. “You don’t think it’s too much?”
“No such thing as ‘too much’ with men, they love too much! Trust me, anyone would sleep with you in that!”
Anyone…? I wondered, and resisted the urge to invite her out again tonight. As much as she was stacks of fun and I loved going out with her, men always looked straight through me like I was invisible when she was around. I didn’t blame them, she was magnetic. Maybe it’s a blessing she’s not coming, I tried to tell myself, taking off the dress for now.
I was shaving my legs in the bath and feeling really guilty about excluding her when she made it even worse. “You want to come over and keep me company tonight? Rob’s out of town til Monday 😦”
I stopped mid razor-stroke, staring at my phone.
Yes, I thought, and wouldn’t it be better to not hide things from her, anyway? For a full ten seconds I actually considered cancelling going out in my microscopic dress and just having a night in at Sarah’s.
Then I came to my senses. Of course it would be better not to hide things from her, but I needed to remind myself how it felt to have a man touch me so I didn’t want to touch her. And I couldn’t say anything to her about tonight, either. She’d be upset at me leaving her out, or worse: she’d start asking about why sex was so important now. I couldn’t answer that question, not without lying. She always knew when I was lying; at least,when I had to do it in person.
Glad this wasn’t one of those times, I texted back, “Sorry 😦 I really would love to except I have some work I need to get stuck into at home tonight…” while I died inside and wished I could just go over without the imminent threat of doing something to wreck our friendship. After you get laid, Gemma, I promised myself as I climbed out of the bath and got dressed.
I was just finishing my eyebrows when my intercom buzzed.
Min. I stood up from the bathroom mirror, took another look at my dress and suddenly felt really naked at the thought of her seeing me like this. It was too late to chicken out now, though, so I ducked out to the kitchen and pressed the gate switch, and then agonised about this stupid dress for the full 30 seconds it took her to get up the to my flat and knock on my door.
When I plucked up courage to open it, she was checking the time on her phone which meant I got a fraction of a second to observe her sensible dark denim jeans and casual blazer before she glanced up at me and her jaw dropped. “W-Whoa.”
My cheeks went the same colour as my dress. That confirmed it: what the hell was I doing?! “Should I take it off?” I asked frantically, glancing down my body; my nipples were still hard. I crossed my arms in front of them. “I should just take it off, shouldn’t I?!”
She quickly recovered. “No, I’m sorry, I—god. Okay, no. Don’t take it off because of me.” She laughed nervously, running a hand through her hair and trying not to look at me.
She wasn’t making me feel better. “It’s way too sheer, isn’t it?” I asked her. “I mean…” I gestured to my nipples.
Her eyes dipped to them for just a second before she paid very special attention to looking me in the eyes. “Well, if you’re uncomfortable in that, just wear something you’re more comfortable in? You’ve got lots of beautiful dresses.”
She gave me a dubious look. “You can’t?”
I shook my head. “I spent hours reading studies about what men like, and this is it: symmetrical, tight and red.”
She squinted at me. “I’m pretty sure the contents of the dress is what matters, and come on,” she said, “wouldn’t you rather be comfortable?”
Yes, I thought. But I’d rather be a lot of things that I’m not, and one of them is ‘in danger of ruining a friendship’. “Yes, but I need to get laid,” I blurted out, and then watched her eyebrows jump again while I kicked myself. Why was I so incapable of holding a normal conversation?
I didn’t know what she was thinking, but she swallowed and said, “Well, if that’s what you’re after, that dress definitely gets your point across.”
“Good,” I said, hoping it was good, and then went to put on some matching heels and grab my handbag.
We’d only made it as far as the stairwell before I felt the wind between my thighs and stopped in my tracks. Ugh, what was I doing? I couldn’t just walk around in public like this, could I? “Hang on a sec,” I told Min, and went back inside to get a coat. When I came back out with it on—feeling much better, mind you, despite the fact it was way too warm outside for a coat—Min was smothering a snicker. I panicked. “What now?”
She tried not to smile too much, and nodded at the window at the end of the corridor. The light was on inside which meant it was basically a mirror.
The coat came down mid-thighs, and—happily—there was no sign of the red dress. Actually, there was no sign of any dress. I looked like I had on a coat and heels and nothing else.
“Great,” I said sarcastically. “Apparently I have two choices: I can either look like a hussy or a flasher.”
“Or you could change into a different dress.”
I stared at my reflection. I could, but those other dresses had never gotten me laid and this was an emergency. “I’ll go with ‘flasher’,” I decided, and then we went downstairs to wait for the taxi I’d booked.
I’d decided to forgo my usual haunts for tonight—if I went to somewhere in The Rocks, half of Frost would be there and that was the last thing I needed—and so we drove just past the city to Newtown. I’d only been there a few times, but I remembered there being a number of really chill places and it seemed like a really good option.
Even this late at night, the streets were bustling. At pavement-level most of the shops were open, and on the first floor of all those shops there were beer gardens, restaurants, and the odd house with washing hanging out the window. I probably would have really enjoyed the atmosphere if every single person who passed us hadn’t stared judgmentally at my bare legs and stiletto heels.
The first place we checked out was a bistro-type bar full of young professionals still in their suits. It made me feel like I’d wandered off the set of Pretty Woman, so we left and tried the next building.
That place was even worse, because it was full of super fashionable hipsters with stylishly mismatched clothes and 100% certified vegan beers. They all looked like genuinely nice people, but I was pretty sure my fire-engine red dress wasn’t going to be too popular with many of the coif-bearded men in there.
The third venue we stuck our heads in was a rooftop beer garden with live music and a more mixed crowd. It looked far more promising.
Because it was still reasonably early for a Friday night, we managed to get a table. Min grabbed us a few mixed shots and a beer for herself, downing her shots in quick succession and then holding up her Heineken. “If Bree asks, this is all I had,” she told me, and drank deeply from it as she looked around us. “So, who’s your type?” she asked innocently, eyes twinkling. “You know, apart from me.”
I sighed at her. That was one time. “I was really drunk,” I told her dryly, and then I realised what she’d said before that. “Wait a second, Bree knows you’re out with me?” She nodded, and I panicked. “She won’t tell Sarah?” Min shook her head. “Not even accidentally?”
Min took another swig and shrugged. “Probably not, but she’s at Henry’s anyway, so…”
But she’s at… “So Henry knows, too?” I asked her, my voice shooting up an octave. I was never going to be able to look him in the face again. “But he was there when Sare said why I wanted to come out tonight!”
“He’s also an adult?” She didn’t look at all concerned. “Don’t worry, he won’t say anything.”
“Yes, but he’ll know,” I said, aghast, and then sighed. “Great. The whole world thinks I’m a nympho. Why did you have to tell them?”
She gave me a look. “Lie to my girlfriend about sneaking out at night with a girl she knows I’ve kissed? Sounds like a great idea.”
Okay, that was a fair point. And, I supposed with the potential Marketing secondment Henry was already successfully keeping a secret for me anyway. It didn’t make the fact they knew how desperate I was any less humiliating, though.
“Anyway,” Min said, turning a little in her seat to look out at the other patrons. “As I was saying, who’s your type?”
I looked around us. Most people were here in groups—helpful, because it made it easier to see who was paired off with who and who looked single. Unfortunately, it also meant that to approach someone, I was going to have to interrupt a group conversation and the probability of me actually doing that approached zero. Besides, I wasn’t like Sarah. I didn’t pick a guy out in a crowd and then proceed to seduce him. I’d never flirted with anyone who wasn’t already clearly interested. “Um, I think my type is people who hit on me first.”
Min gave me a silent ‘ah’, and then chuckled. “In that case, you probably need to do something about that.” She nodded at my coat.
I froze. Just the thought of taking my coat off and showing this entire room my nipples nearly had me breaking out in a cold sweat. Still, I was here to rescue my friendship; needed to remember that. I drank my third shot. “Okay, but I need way more alcohol.”
She looked at her mostly full beer and then back at me with a sceptical expression. “Okay…” she said at length. “How many this time?”
To get me out of this coat and into some guy’s lap? “As many as you can carry,” I told her darkly.
She spent a few seconds watching me with concern. “You don’t want to maybe try somewhere else instead?” she asked. “I was reading about a place I think you might like down the road. It has great reviews.”
“Unless the reviews say, ‘Gemma Rowe will need less alcohol to pick up a guy here’, I think I’m still going to need more alcohol.”
She looked like she wanted to say something else, but gave up. “Okay, then. Alcohol it is,” she said as she gave me a little salute as she headed back to the bar.
While she was gone, I had another good hard look around me. There were a few reasonable guys—I mean not amazing, but I suppose if I had to sleep with someone? I sincerely hoped alcohol would make my plans easier to execute, though.
It did. A few minutes after Min returned and I sculled my shots, I felt really warm. That discomfort began to outweigh my terror at all these living, breathing humans seeing my nipples, so I ended up unbuttoning my coat and standing momentarily to drape it on the back of my chair. A few eyes glanced in my direction while I did that.
I should have been overjoyed at that—this thing was supposed to catch people’s attention, right?—except instead of feeling victorious I had to fight to urge to immediately bundle myself back up in my coat. I felt naked and so, so uncomfortable.
Even more horrifying: a group of men who’d been sitting at the bar were whispering to each other, and then all looked at me. One of them stood up.
No, no, no, sit back down! I thought, suddenly acutely aware how very much I could not do this. On exactly how many levels I categorically, definitely could not do this. Glancing over my shoulder towards the women’s, I wondered if I could run into it without looking like I was blowing the guy off.
Too late. “Hey,” the guy said, swaggering up to the table. He was probably about five years younger than me, and he carried himself with the cocky confidence of someone who knew they were hot.
I tried to speak, but this horrible croak sound came out of my mouth and I just went bright red. Kill me now, I thought helplessly as Min sat up.
“Hey,” Min said in her gender-neutral voice, and casually held out her hand so the two of them could share a really blokey handshake. “Min,” she said, and then gestured at me. “This is Gemma.”
The guy beamed at me. “Hi, Gemma, I’m Todd. How’re you doing?”
ABORT! ABORT!, my brain screamed, but I still managed a really forced smile while I sweated out every ounce of fluid in my body.
“Your girlfriend is hot, bro,” the guy told Min, both as a deliberate compliment to me and a clear fish for information about whether we were together. “Can you teach me to get one like that?”
Smooth as silk, Min fired back, “Unfortunately, she’s not my girlfriend. And I think you’re off to a good start.”
And I think I’m actually going to die right here, RIP, I decided, feeling actually physically sick. I could not do this. Who the hell was I kidding? I wasn’t Sarah. Picking up total strangers was a Sarah-thing, not a Gemma-thing. If that guy touched me, I was going to need at least three years of therapy.
I stood awkwardly. “Be right back,” I rasped, and then fled into the women’s, rushed straight past all the girls freshening their makeup and holed up against the wall on the far side of the toilets.
I took a few breaths and put my hands to my cheeks, trying to ignore the fact the other girls were all giving me judgmental glances in the mirror. Then, because I didn’t want them to think I was even more nuts than they already thought I was for wearing this dress, I turned to the mirror and pretended to be smoothing down my hair.
I’m in hell, I thought, staring at my uncharacteristically slutty reflection and imagining Min trying to entertain that guy while they waited for me to emerge. I wondered how long I’d have to wait before he’d give up and go back to his mates and then I could go straight to the airport and flee the country. I felt really guilty about leaving Min with him, really guilty. But I couldn’t sleep with a stranger. Gosh, I couldn’t even talk to a stranger, what on earth had I been thinking? And how did I really think doing that was going to help?
“Hey, wrong bathroom, buddy!” I heard a harsh voice say suddenly, followed by another girl shouting, “Dude, what the fuck—? Get out!”
I turned towards the commotion and spotted Min standing in the doorway of the women’s, holding my coat and handbag and looking towards the cubicles. When she saw they were all empty, she frowned and looked across at the line-up by the mirror and spotted me. She seemed genuinely surprised to see me there. “Oh,” she said, looking embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I—I thought you were really upset.”
One of the women scoffed at her. “So you thought barging in here was going to make her feel better?”
I grimaced. “Come on…” I told Min, grabbing her arm and pulling her out with me. In the beer garden, the men who’d checked me out were busy laughing together at the bar, so we rushed quickly behind them and fled out to the street. The disapproving looks of strangers reminded me I was basically wearing lingerie, so I took the coat off Min and wrapped myself up again, ignoring how sweltering I was in it.
I didn’t relax until we we’d half-run, half-staggered several blocks away and ended up panting and lost. I sat at a deserted bus stop to catch my breath, my head swimming from both the alcohol and the adrenaline.
Carefully, Min sat down beside me.
“I’m sorry,” I told her, feeling guilty. “You must think I’m completely nuts.”
She shook her head. “I was just worried.”
Hah. “I don’t blame you, I’d be worried about me, too, I mean look at me…” I gestured down at my Flasher Chic. “I get dressed up in something I hate to pick up a guy I don’t know, and then when I pick up a guy I don’t know, I run away. I’m always having some sort of crisis when you’re around.”
“Is this a crisis?” She seemed genuinely interested in my answer.
I sighed. “My whole life is a crisis. To get laid I’m pretty sure I need to actually talk to people, and every time I need to talk to people: giant crisis.” I groaned and put my head in my hands for a second. “Ugh! I hate that I can’t open my mouth without degenerating into a blithering idiot… Everyone probably thinks I’m so stupid!”
She didn’t look convinced. “I don’t think people think that at all. I’ve always found your shyness kind of charming.” She gave me a wry half-smile.
I looked up at her. “Great, will you come home with me, then?” I drunkenly joked, to horribly regret later when I was sober.
“Hmm, tempting,” she shot back, fortunately playing along, “but I’m pretty sure you said you signed up for a certified guy, rather than whatever I eventually figure out I am.”
“I’m so desperate I’m willing to be flexible on the minor details,” I told her. “You’ll do. Come on, let’s go home and you can do your best to fix me right up.”
I only realised my mistake when her brow dipped. “Fix you?”
Crap. “No, no, fix me up!” I tried to explain. “You know, like, ‘sort me out’-‘fix me up’! That’s what I meant!”
She gave me a really searching look for a few seconds, and then finished with a slow nod. “Right.” She didn’t say anything else, though, which made me panic that I’d taken the flirty joking way too far or that with the ‘fix me’ line I’d somehow accidentally insulted her nondescript gender.
We sat in silence for a minute or two, during which she was probably secretly judging me.
Then, I took a long, deep breath and exhaled. I should have just gone over to Sarah’s, after all. “Okay, well, let’s go home, I guess…” I said, standing up and looking around us to try and figure out the best place to meet an Uber driver. “It seems like a lot of wasted effort to go home before midnight, though…”
While I was feeling around in my handbag for my phone, she put her hand on my shoulder. “You sure you want to go home now?”
My cheeks flushed, there was something about her tone of voice as she asked me that… “Um—?”
“Because there’s that place I was thinking we could quickly check out. It’s not too far away, if you don’t want to call it early…”
Oh. Well… I didn’t really feel like going into another place, but Min had just done me the enormous favour of coming with me tonight, of not cracking it when I left her alone with that guy, and it looked like she wasn’t even going to tease me about any of it either. I didn’t feel like ‘no’ would ever be an appropriate answer, given the circumstances. “Sure.”
She looked relieved. “Okay,” she said, and lead me up a few blocks and then down an alley to a side-door entrance. There was a female bouncer seated at the door—complete with shaved head and surly expression—who looked very critically at Min for some reason as she carded her. She didn’t say anything and let us in, though.
Inside, there was a narrow hallway that led up a flight of stairs, and the dull thump of dance music drifting through the walls. It all seemed very seedy, and not the kind of place people would leave good reviews for.
“How come you want to go here?” I asked Min dubiously while I tried to navigate the steep stairwell as un-drunkenly as possible.
Before she got a chance to answer me, I got to the top.
Above Min’s head, a rainbow flag with two linked women’s symbols was hanging over the doorway.