A RomCom Short Story by Holly Richards
Their eyes locked from across the house. Neville’s stomach churned and made a noise so loud he thought surely it would distract the other patrons. What is she doing here, he thought to himself.
Understand, Neville is a creature of habit. He has attended the opera without fail every single Saturday night for as long as he can remember. He makes spaghetti every Sunday night for supper, always enough for leftovers the following day. He walks his dog daily at 0445 sharp. He never deviates from his routine, deviation from a well-honed routine positively unsavoury.
Neville is a man easily compared to a gin and tonic— proper, disciplined, understated. Tonight, he was dressed impeccably in a tailored suit, perfectly straight blue patterned bowtie and mauve handkerchief purling out of his left pocket— a suit of armour of sorts. He was fastidious to a fault.
Neville jumped and glanced at his phone. Barbara had texted him, Neville, what are you doing here? I had no idea you enjoyed the opera!
Dear god, Neville thought. Why is she texting me? His anxiety started to build, his breath quickening— his heartbeat was palpable. Take a deep breath, he thought to himself.
Barbara was an outgoing office administrator at the law firm where Neville worked. You could say she is comparable to a bottle of champagne— bubbly, explosive and never one to hold back; often bursting at the most inopportune times. She was round, shaped thick and voluptuous like a baritone. This evening, she was a vision in rose coloured velvet that clung to her curves like a sexy sports car on the autobahn.
It was not a secret around the office that Barbara made lots of noise around Neville—she wanted his attention and, ultimately, him.
Her outgoing personality and dry sense of humour were intriguing to Neville.
This is a great opera-tunity! Barbara texted, Let’s get out of here and do something fun!
As the opening act encompassed the stage, Neville sighed, relieved, and began to relax. He knew he had time to think about his response. The plot-driving message of the recitative opening act painted a picture of an unlikely love story. As the actors navigated the scene, Neville thought of the loneliness he often felt in his world, which was driven with disciplined civility and order.
Embarrassed, Neville started typing a response as the first of two acts ended. Then erased it. Then started over again.
I’ve never missed the opera, he responded to Barbara rather awkwardly.
Now is as good of a time as any, Neville. I want to show you what a real high note sounds like, she responded, without missing a beat.
“What on earth does she mean by that?” Neville thought aloud.
Other patrons sshhh’ed him as the second act was just getting started. Without thinking, Neville stood up and headed to the exit. “Oops, sorry, pardon me,” he said stumbling through the crowd.
Barbara couldn’t help but notice the commotion that Neville was creating. She quickly followed.
Neville stood 6 feet tall and had a stiff, rigid stature. As he rushed through the grand entrance and down the steps towards the subway, time stood still.
And there she was.
Barbara leaned in for a hug at the exact moment Neville extended his hand for a handshake. They fumbled through a brief, awkward embrace.
All he could hear was his heartbeat pounding in his temples as he breathed heavily. “What … what… now?” he stammered. His vocal cords were paralyzed, along with everything else.
“Let’s jump on the next car and head to 31st Street,” Barbara said in a high-pitched voice. “My flat is 10 minutes away.”
What on earth does she want to go to her place for, wondered Neville. Now intrigued, he followed Barbara to the subway platform to board the next car.
Not usually one for clumsiness, Neville suddenly found himself in a tangle of limbs at the top of the platform. Roaring, Barbara said, “Neville, it’s more common to fall down the stairs.” Still giggling, she helped him up. Neville’s face instantly turned a shade of red that would make most roses envious.
“I’m fine Barbara… I never ride the subway,” Neville exclaimed somewhat exasperated.
“Shake it off pal. We’re going to have a great time tonight,” said Barbara. “What’s your poison? I’ll stop at the liquor store if I don’t have it at home.”
“Honestly Barbara, I rarely drink anything except water,” Neville admitted. “I defer to your recommendation.”
Barbara smiled coyly. “Dirty martinis it is,” she said.
Arriving at Barbara’s flat was unnerving for Neville. There were clothes, underclothes, and this and that thrown all over the place. It was as though nothing had a place— a stark contrast from Neville’s flat. The feeling of chaos caused his stomach to churn again, but this time excitement was bubbling in the place of anxiety. Barbara poured the dirty martinis and handed one to Neville.
Barbara leaned in for a kiss, tilting her head naturally to the right as though she had done this a million times. Neville, without thinking, tilted his head to the left, gobsmacking Barbara right on the bridge of her nose.
“Ouch,” she giggled. “Let’s try that again shall we?” This time, Barbara strategically leaned to the left to avoid the earlier assault on her senses. Neville went right. SMACK.
Barbara seemed unphased. Neville’s face blossomed back into its rose-worthy shade of red. “I’m going to go left. You go right… okay?”
Finally, their lips locked. All colour drained from Neville’s face as he felt feelings he hadn’t experienced in years. His groin swelled with pleasure.
As they started to make out like a couple of teenagers, Neville’s dirty martini spilled all over him. To make things worse, he fell flat off the couch, causing a chain reaction of sorts. Barbara’s cat screeched and a potted monstera deliciosa tipped off the side table, landing perfectly on Neville’s head. Soil was everywhere. He was certain dirty martinis did not involve potting soil.
“I’m running you a bath Neville Stewart,” Barbara chuckled. “This evening’s beginning to look an awful lot like a soap opera.”
Standing in the bathroom, 10 shades of red, Neville began to take his soil-stained shirt off and shook the dirt in the trash can. The door opened. “Can I assist you in getting the soil from those hard-to-reach places?” Barbara said seductively. I can’t believe she’s still interested, Neville thought. Barbara handed him a freshly poured dirty martini and said, “Take-two… let’s try this again,” as she climbed into the bathtub.
Neville and Barbara looked like two octopi in a mesh bag. Picture a size 14 woman trying to squeeze into a size 2 dress. SPLASH, BANG, “Ow! Let’s hope the people in the flat below have flood insurance,” Barbara shrieked, laughing hysterically. Almost two dirty martinis in and Neville burst out laughing. This is the most ridiculous attempt at sex I have ever been involved in, he thought— like he could even remember the last time.
After they stumbled out of the bathtub, dried off and dressed, Barbara said, “It’s getting late, would you like a do-over tomorrow night?”
“Yes, tomorrow night I am free,” Neville said, smiling.
“Perhaps we should try a crisp bottle of chardonnay in lieu of the dirty martinis, eh?” Neville said as he was putting his coat on. Barbara smiled, still chuckling.
As Neville walked towards the subway to make his way home, he shook his head. Who would have thought the opera would have ended with such a bang!