Solve for i – Chapter Eleven

Now that I knew what to expect, the whole looking-for-women-on-Tinder thing made me feel slightly less like I was about to break out in hives from the stress. Although, if I was perfectly honest with myself, it was less ‘looking-for-women-on-Tinder’ and more ‘please-god-please-god-let-soccer-girl-match-with-me-on-Tinder’. I wasn’t sure exactly how the matching process worked, but I was pretty sure my profile wouldn’t be presented to her unless I was classed as looking for women. So maybe she hadn’t swiped right on me because she hadn’t had the chance to yet?

I very carefully moved Mr Grumpet off my lap (and he lived up to his nickname by sooking loudly about it and making me feel like a monster), poured myself a big glass of festive Sav Blanc and then sat down again to start swiping on profiles while I waited.

I had to plough through a lot of women looking for threesomes with their husbands/boyfriends again first—not that the idea of a threesome was completely out of the question, it was just than meeting one new person was stressful enough—before I started to get to single women.

I swiped right on a biochemist, a gym junkie and an event planner, and I was just thinking that the biochemist from before would match really well with a medical researcher I’d just landed on, when I had a sudden thought that maybe that gym junkie had hooked up with my soccer girl. It would be perfect: they could do all sorts of sporty, healthy things together like go running in the morning. I’d always wanted to be the type of person who went running in the morning, but instead I was the type of person who slept in and never ate breakfast. Maybe that’s why my happiness index was so low.

While I was waiting a potential match, I eventually ran out of profiles to sort through and Tinder asked me if I wanted to widen my search parameters to find more. I didn’t really, but I supposed I could be more flexible if I had to be? After all, Min was happy with someone who was eight years younger than her, and Henry was seven years older than Min. Furthermore, one of the guys I’d dated had been 41 and married as well (although that wasn’t a mistake I wanted to repeat) but I supposed I could go down as far as 22? Soccer girl was 24, after all.

I was just messing with the sliders and trying to decide how old was too old when my settings screen faded and It’s a match! popped up, complete with fireworks. I stopped breathing.

I’d swiped a lot of people, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Statistically, it was unlikely to be her. I forced myself to start breathing again anyway, repeating to myself, it could be anyone, it could be

But it wasn’t anyone. It took me two full seconds for it to sink in who ‘Michaela’ was and who was in that second portrait: soccer girl.

What?!

“Oh my gosh!” I said aloud, stunned. She’d swiped right on me? But why? I was the antithesis of ‘sporty’! I was immediately torn between being terrified I’d find out we didn’t get along because of how different we were, buzzing around my living room in panic, and jumping up and down on my couch like Tom Cruise. She matched with me!

Okay, I was super glad I’d decided to switch my search back over to women now. I sat down on the couch with my phone in my hands and my heart in my throat. Should I message her?

I knew I probably should, but what the hell did you say to someone on Tinder? I didn’t want to mess up big time and say something stupid so she’d just unmatch with me after everything.

I read through her profile a few times, trying to figure out what I could say. None of the profiles on here said anything important, though. It was all like ‘late night | live life | love well’ and palm tree emoticons. Well, the ones that didn’t say ‘my boyfriend and I are looking for a number three for fun times!’. Michaela’s profile had ‘GO MATILDAS!! You’ve got it this season, girls!’ (I was guessing that was a soccer team?) and that she was looking for someone special.

I’m special, right? I thought, and then sighed at myself. I was special, all right. In a tragic, hopeless sort of way. It also said she was 5’5”, which was the same height as me. For a second, I found that really weird. I’d never been with someone the same height as me. I was used to having to kiss up at people. Looking at her body, too, she was probably even a bit smaller than me. That felt wrong, kind of. I mean, not that it stopped me from being interested in her, but it was just something to get used to about the whole girl thing, I guess. Then again, I don’t know why this girl’s height was an issue for me, because Sarah was the same height as me, too…

I felt uncomfortable at the thought of comparing Sarah to soccer girl. I was too excited to worry about that, though.

Any moment now, I thought, staring intently at the screen. She’d message me any second so I didn’t have to. The button’s right there, I mentally willed this ‘Michaela’ girl, looking at the ‘why not send them a message?’ button that was on my screen.

After nearly twenty minutes of nothing except me staring at my phone, she hadn’t messaged me. Then, I had a sudden, horrible misgiving that maybe she’d just swiped right on me to be polite like I had with that bicurious girl I’d unmatched yesterday? It would totally serve me right if she had. I didn’t want to message her in case I’d say something stupid and she’d go ‘nope’ and unmatch me in the same way. That would be totally depressing.

Maybe she’s busy, I decided, despite the fact my brain was going overtime imagining all the horrible ways this could end that involved me feeling like I was eternally unattractive and unlovable. Trying to be mature about it instead of a nervous wreck, I decided I would go to bed and perhaps there would be a message waiting for me tomorrow.

I got into my PJs and slid under my doona, but (surprise, surprise) I couldn’t sleep. Not at all. I was wide awake, and I kept checking my phone every ten seconds for the little Tinder flame in my notification panel.

I should message her, I thought. I should just do it. If I didn’t do it, I was going to be awake half the night, rock up late to work and be in even more trouble than I already was with everyone.

I rolled over onto my stomach, phone in hand.

Oh, gosh. Okay, no, I could do this. Practically shaking, I messaged her, “Hi… 🙂

The second I’d send it, I felt like an idiot. What the hell was that, ‘Hi…:)’? Wow, Gem, I thought, way to be super witty and engaging. She’s going to be like, ‘who is this loser?’ and unma—

Hi… :)”

I stared at my phone for a second, stunned. Then I put my face level with Mr Crumpet’s beside me on the bed and shrieked, “She’s talking to me!” He didn’t care. I cared, though; she’d messaged me right back, like right away. That meant something, didn’t it?! Oh my gosh!

Trying to calm myself down because I was getting second-hand embarrassment from imagining what I’d look like to someone else, I brainstormed what else I could say to her. I didn’t want to come across as really boring, even if I kind of was.

Before I could think of anything that wasn’t really dull, though, another message came through. “Sorry. I suck at this stuff. I promise I’m more interesting in person K”

I was so relieved that I laughed aloud. It was nice to think she’d been worrying about the same thing! She looked really charismatic in her photos, though. I wasn’t sure what I had to offer. “I’m actually not sure I am? But people laugh AT me all the time, so I’m probably entertaining anyway.”

Lol I thought that icecream pic in your profile was pretty funny J J”

It kind of was, I supposed. I couldn’t really take the credit for it. “I’d love to say I’m just that funny, but my best friend Sarah posed me in it. She’s the funny one.

Yeah, but your expression totally made the shot J” she said. “Well, that and the fact it’s you in the photo… J”

I nearly threw my phone across the room and made another series of really embarrassing noises. She was flirting with me? I was going to hyperventilate and die, I swear to god. I had no idea how to flirt!

We managed to start up a bit of a conversation, and during that time I learnt that despite the fact her name was Michaela, people only ever called her ‘Mikey’, that her dream was to one day play for the Matildas (which was an Australian soccer team, after all), and that she was a waitress in a really upmarket restaurant in the CBD. She’d also only just come out. “I know it’s sounds kind of stupid, but I didn’t really figure it out until last year,” she told me. “Half my team are lesbians, you’d think I’d know, yeah?”

I didn’t think it was stupid at all. I didn’t even really know what I was. “I’m not out,” I confessed. “I don’t really know what to come out as…”

Even though I didn’t really care about sports and she couldn’t stop gushing about them, I talked with her until midnight and then we agreed we should probably sleep.

I have training at 7am,” she told me. “I’m going to be wrecked…”

I winced. “Sorry… :(”

Don’t apologise, it’s definitely worth it… ;)”

I made a really high-pitched screeching sound I’m glad no one could hear. I was just staring at that photo of her in a suit and waiting to see if she’d send me another message when I suddenly realised I couldn’t leave her messages on my phone if Sarah was going to get a hold of it, and she would. At lunch time, she’d want to check my Tinder matches to see which boys we’d picked had matched with me.

I sighed. “Hey, I can’t leave these messages on my phone (long story), do you think we could message on Facebook or something?”

Lol the perils of not being out… Sure, add me, my surname is Fitzgerald.”

We’d just added each other and I’d settled down in my bed to stare at my ceiling with a huge grin on my face instead of sleeping, when the flashing notification light on my phone got my attention again. I rolled over to check it. It was a Facebook messenger light. Wow. If I grinned any more, my face would crack.

Listen… I have a day shift tomorrow at Chez Phillipe… you want to stop by for my end of it? I’ll get the chef to cook us something amazing, he’s a good friend of mine. But it’s cool if you’d rather message.

She wanted to meet me? Oh my gosh! I was no good at meeting people!

I was going to suffocate from not breathing, I swear to god. I couldn’t do any of this, there were so many levels on which I seriously couldn’t do this.

Despite all of them, I found myself typing. “No, that sounds okay! Message me the details :)” and then degenerating into a big jumble of fear and excitement in my bed.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t sleep very well after that. I kept worrying that I wouldn’t live up to Mikey’s expectations of me or that it would be super awkward because anything that didn’t follow a prescribed formula was something I was completely hopeless at. I think I probably passed out at maybe 2am, and that made me miss my alarm and my usual train, and I had to duck into the ladies’ downstairs at work to put concealer on the deep bags under my eyes before I ran in to avoid being late. Wow, was I ever going to look attractive tonight…

Despite looking like a microwaved corpse, I floated into the office, totally high on the fact I had a date tonight with an actual real person who was interested in me, and then as soon as I got there  I remembered everyone was miserable and had to do something about my elated smile.

Because everyone had witnessed Spud going off at me yesterday for being on my phone, I put it in my drawer and tried very, very hard to ignore it all morning while I pretended to be busy. It was torture, I couldn’t think about anything else except her messaging me. I was just wondering if I could maybe furtively check it when I noticed Spud wasn’t in his chair, and a gentle tap on my shoulder made me jump.

It was Spud. “Hey,” he said gravely. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

That sounded ominous. What have I done now? I thought, immediately feeling sick. Had I been looking too happy again? “S-Sure?”

He took me aside into one of the meeting rooms, spending a second checking the video conference software wasn’t on. Then, he turned towards me, arms crossed.

I actually felt physically sick. I was seriously going to be sick. What could he possibly want? I’d been doing my job and I’d only checked my phone once!

“Look, I’m sorry I cracked it at you yesterday,” he said, sounding very subdued.

T-That was… unexpected. I didn’t feel less sick, though.

“You shouldn’t have been dicking around on your phone, but that’s no cause for me to embarrass you like I did. It’s just I’m worried I’m going to end up on the dole and have to sell my house—the place it took me 20 years to buy in the first place. If you’ve got a job lined up, good on you, and it’s no cause for me to go off at you because I haven’t.”

He let that hang for a second, and I realised it was a tacit question. I couldn’t say anything about Marketing yet, though, could I? Henry made me promise.

“I don’t,” I lied, and went bright red.

He wasn’t Sarah; he didn’t guess. “I’m really sorry again, then,” he said. “Especially since you’re in the same boat as us.”

“I’m coming to the union meeting on Friday, too,” I told him, hoping it would help.

It did. He apologised again and then offered to buy me a coffee, and he didn’t just buy me a coffee, either: he bought he a huge coffee and a big sugary cinnamon apple scroll to go with it. I wasn’t going to be hungry for lunch!

After that big apology, I didn’t want to push my luck and make Spud angry at me again for being happy or being on my phone, so I left it in my drawer.

Okay, admittedly I did sneak off into the bathroom a couple of times to furtively check to see if she’d messaged me—of course she hadn’t, she had training and then work after—so, the second time, I spent the couple of minutes I was in there looking at her profile pictures again on Tinder. Then, I did what I knew I needed to: I finally screencapped them and deleted her as a match on Tinder.

Then, I was faced with a dilemma.

The screenshots showed up at the top of my gallery. Mikey looked quite boyish in the photo of her in the suit, and you could totally tell she was a lesbian. If Sarah found that photo on my phone, she’d immediately twig onto why I had it, because why else would you have screencapped a kind of flirty picture of a girl in a suit? I could save it somewhere where she couldn’t find it, except then I couldn’t quickly look at it while no one was looking at me at work. I didn’t want to hide it or delete it, but I could 100% guarantee Sarah would want to take control of my phone to check my (now cleared) Tinder matches, and there was a chance she’d end up in my gallery. I had to delete them, I needed to be safe.

The problem was that I didn’t want to. It had been ages since I’d felt like this about someone who I could actually have, and I wanted to enjoy it! Well, at least until after the date, because if it didn’t work out, none of the photos or anything would matter and I could delete them and live out the rest of my days in safety as an old spinster cat woman.

I leant my head against the wall of the toilet cubicle I was in and groaned. Okay, I’d keep them at least until after the date, but that meant no lunch with Sarah. Oh well, I’d just have to deal with it. It was only one day.

Hey,” I messaged Sarah, at least happy I didn’t need to lie to her face. “I’m not having lunch today 😦 Raincheck tomorrow?”

Wow, your team must be pretty unhappy with you! Don’t worry, I’ll sneak down some supplies for you in a minute J I won’t let my best friend go hungry! 🙂

I grimaced. “Probably not a good idea L Thanks though!”

This time, it was longer before she replied. “Oh… okay…

I could hear it in her voice, and it struck me to my heart.

One more day, I promised myself, taking a deep breath and trying to ignore the really yucky, uncomfortable feeling that had settled in my stomach before I went back out to work.

The end of the day couldn’t come fast enough, and I raced home to completely turn over my entire wardrobe to try and figure out what to wear to Chez Phillipe for 8pm. Mikey had said it was an upmarket restaurant, but what did that mean? Did that mean I was supposed to dress formally? Or was work-ish wear okay? Or jeans and heels, or a giraffe onesy? What should I wear?

After I’d piled every item of clothing I owned onto bed to have a meltdown over still having nothing to wear, I wondered if I should google what lesbians wore. Then I realised that was ridiculous for two reasons: because it had backfired horribly last time, and also because at that gay bar there had been lesbians of every possible category wearing every possible outfit.

In the end, I decided to wear a nice blue party dress and some sparkly ballet flats. I might be a bit cold, but at least I looked really nice and the blue complimented my hair.

It was only in the Uber on the way to Chez Phillipe that I started to, like, genuinely panic: I was about to meet soccer girl. She was a girl, and so was I, and we were going to be out in public on a date in the city and what if someone saw us? Or worse, what if she didn’t like me? What if she did like me? What if she liked me and I made a huge fool of myself and she stopped liking me?! What if Sarah somehow found out and it ruined our friendship forever!?

When the Uber dropped me off I was in this kind of ascended state of numbness, where I was so stressed out I’d actually ceased to have human emotions. That was until I saw the cursive lettering ‘Chez Phillipe’, and then I suddenly had all the emotions at once.

Well, it’s too late to back out now, isn’t it? I told myself, staring up at the sign while my brain screamed that it’s never too late to back out and I could still turn around and run away RUN AWAY!

I ignored that part, somehow managed to gather together my fried nerves, and walked in.

Continue to Chapter Twelve

 

13 thoughts on “Solve for i – Chapter Eleven

  1. I’m reminded so much of me messaging my last girlfriend. Which is amazing, really, since I’m straight and a guy. Face cracking grins, though, that was so a thing.

  2. Gemma mentally matchmaking the people she’d seen on Tinder was so funny!

    Omg she matched with soccer girl! Get it, Gemma!

    The rapid swings between overthinking and “OMG” squirming while messaging Mikey are so sympathetic and cute.

    Oof, I really think it’s going to bite her that she’s been lying about the Marketing job. Shoulda just blown people off or said something noncommittal when they asked about it. I mean, I totally get that she’s not really up for a graceful response (I assume that’d be something to the effect of “sorry, I’d rather not discuss the circumstances of my employment, but I promise if I knew anything affecting your job I’d tell you”, which is basically true), but I think a deer in headlights silence would be better than outright lying, even if it might get her yelled at in the short term.

    > Okay, I’d keep them at least until after the date, but that meant no lunch with Sarah.
    This is the most absurd train of thought that Gemma has had to date. Good Lord. I really cannot underline enough how goddamn irrational this is. Anyway, even accepting her bizarre troll logic, just take a bunch of pictures of a cool-looking cloud or something to fill up the top few rows of your picture folder.

    Ohhhh, wait… canceling the date isn’t REALLY about her worrying that Sarah will see those pictures, is it? That’s not what this is about. Does Gemma feel nervous about seeing Sarah now that she’s taken another step in externalizing her sexuality? Like as soon as Sarah looks at her she’ll see “GAY” written across her face? Or even, like… I’ve heard people can sometimes feel irrational loyalty towards unrequited crushes despite themselves, so maybe Gemma unconsciously feels like her attraction to soccer girl is somehow betraying Sarah? Or she feels like she’s betraying Sarah by keeping so many secrets? Awwww. I wish Gemma was ready to come out of the closet.

    Aaaaaaah her outfit sounds cute! Her date sounds cute! I’m so proud of her for flying solo, no Min or Sarah to tell her what to do (I mean, not that it’s wrong to get a little advice from pals, but I think it’s a good step for her personal development that this time she didn’t convene a war council beforehand) – I hope this goes well!!!!

    I think in this chapter I was torn between punching the air all “YES!!! GET IT, GIRL!” and facepalming like “gemma no what r u doing”…

  3. Oh I hope it all goes well for little Gemma! Though I am feeling a bit bad for Sarah. Hopefully she’ll understand, if Gem ever decides to tell her about. So super excited for the next chapter 🙂

    P.S.: You wrote “Mr. Grumpet” in the second paragraph, I’m guessing that’s a typo.

  4. “Not that the idea of a threesome was completely out of the question” – okay, that was unexpected. Gemma, you dark horse.

    Gahhhh I’m so excited for Gemma! I hope this girl turns out to be nice and not a psycho, although I’m guessing it’s way too early for things to work out that easily.

    I feel sorry for Sarah – but at the same time, I think Gemma needs some emotional distance there. If you’re in love with your straight friend, the last thing you need is them constantly hanging around.

    Really looking forward to the next chapter!

  5. All that’s running through my head is “How is Asy going to kill us all with secondhand embarrassment?” and “I swear Sarah won’t react as badly as Gem thinks, but it’d be easier if she just freaking told her!”
    Also, I’m liking Soccer Girl. I hope cute things are about to happen…

  6. Why am I already shipping Socgem? Gemsoc?Fitzgem? Anyway, Soccer Girl already sounds great. It’s interesting that Gem admitted to not being ‘out’ just yet, I know a lot of girls (and guys) who’d struggle to date someone who is mature (i.e. independent of family and financially) and in the same scenario. That may sound unfair but there’s a lot of emotional stuff going on that it can be difficult for a new partner to have to both navigate and deal with. That doesn’t mean of course that Gemma can’t be testing her feelings, but the need to use alternative communication would and should be a serious red flag to SG.

    The issue I have with it in this scenario is that Gem is being actively deceptive with herself and those around her. To play both sides of the Tinder game to keep up the illusion with her best friend (and yes, crush) is wildly problematic. In short, this is going to end badly and quite frankly Gemma only has herself to blame.

    If anything, I wish Min was more present in this component of the story arc to give voice to both the reader’s concerns and to shine a light on Gems behaviour (for good, bad or otherwise). I’m not sure where this is going just at the moment but I hope that Soccer Girl doesn’t need to be the saintly type to assist Gemma in working her way through these issues.

    Either way, I’m intrigued to see how you navigate this going forward.

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