Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Now in its fifth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which began on Monday and runs for a fortnight. Called Cork’s Quick Coupler, this story, set in the world of speed dating, was written by Jessica Militante, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous epsiodes at echolive.ie.
Episode 5: Cradle Robert
Two down, five to go. At this point, I was willing to bet that Ciara had set me up on some crazy Irish prank show.
My next ‘date’ was probably going to be a dog in a bowtie at this rate. Which actually wouldn’t be that bad, now that I’ve thought about it. I’ve never had a problem connecting with animals.
The man that slid into the chair across from me was definitely not a dog, nor was he much of a man, really. He looked to be about 16, max, with curly brown hair that was sticking up at odd angles, like he had been constantly messing with it.
He would have seemed confident, if not for the slight shake in his hands as he set down a full glass of red wine in front of him. He hid his hands under the table when he caught me looking.
“Hey, are you lost?” I asked, looking around for whom he might be here with. He looked over at a group of boys by the entrance to the pub and folded his arms across his chest. I could tell he was trying to flex his muscles through his red t-shirt but there wasn’t much to flex.
“Just in your eyes, love,” he said.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to groan or laugh which resulted in a strangled snort. He must have taken it as encouragement.
“The name’s Robert,” he continued, adopting a crooked grin.
“Hello, Robert,” I said once I finally had control of myself.
“You know that it’s a school night, right? Shouldn’t you be at home and — I don’t know — studying for the Leaving Cert or something?”
His posture deflated and he shot another look at his friends.
“I don’t know what you’re on about. I’m in college, like.”
“Oh really? You won’t mind if I call someone over to check your ID, then?” I raised my hand, hoping to catch Aphrodite’s attention. Robert sunk down deeper into his chair.
“No! Please don’t.”
I put my hand down and levelled him with a look.
“Listen, kid. Most people came here to seriously put themselves out there. We don’t need you and your friends poking fun at us while we are just trying to meet some new people. Not to mention, you don’t know what type of weirdos could be here. It’s not safe for someone your age.”
Robert had the decency to look ashamed.
“Ah shurlookit, it was just a dare, miss. Sorry, like. To be fair, I didn’t even want to do it, like.”
“Okay, first of all, I’m not that much older than you so don’t call me miss.”
“Second, don’t be a gobshite. They,” I jerked my head towards the group of boys, “are not real friends if they force you to do things you don’t want to do.”
“Gobshite?” He ran a hand through his hair and shook his head with a smile. “It wasn’t like that, swear on me granda’s grave. I just thought this would be a good way to — uhh, to get some dating experience.”
His cheeks turned red as he said the last part. It came out in a rush, like he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to say it, and my heart ached for him. Now that was something I could certainly relate to. I leaned back in my seat and spread my arms out in front of me.
“Well, what would you like to know?”
Robert looked surprised. “Really?”
“Sure,” I said. “I can’t say that I have that much experience myself, and we’ve probably only got about a minute left, but shoot.”
“Okay, so how can you tell if someone likes you?”
“No idea. Next.”
“Fair. Well what do girls actually want to do on dates?”
“Can’t speak for every girl, but I am definitely always down to eat. Take her somewhere with good food.”
“But then who pays?”
“I’ve always thought that if you do the inviting, you should be the one to pay. It’s never a bad idea to ask what your date thinks though, communicate.”
“Ugh, you sound like my mam.”
“She must also be a smart woman then,” I said with a laugh.
“Why does dating have to be so hard, like?”
“I wish I could say it gets easier but…” I gestured to the rest of the pub and he groaned before sending me a grateful smile.
“Thanks a mil, erra…” He squinted at my name tag. “Tessa? My friends have about just as much experience as me so it’s not like I could ask them.”
“Julia,” I corrected. Stupid handwriting.
“Look, I can give you my number if you want. Just if you have any more questions or whatever. Don’t go thinking I mean anything else by it.”
“That’d be grand, like!”
He slid over his phone and I typed it in quickly. His friends must have seen because loud whooping and cheers of “Go, Robbie!” could be heard coming from the entrance. I gave him a serious look.
“Switch!” Aphrodite called out.
“Go home now, Robert.”
“I will, yeah.”
He wouldn’t but at least I tried. As he stood up, he reached down for his wine glass and I quickly grabbed it.
“I think I’ll hold on to this for you,” I said.
“Jey-sus, you really are like my mam. You two would probably get on.”
I took a large sip. “I don’t doubt it.”