That green pencil from Easons was definitely a poor comparison to the clear ocean colour that Conor turned on me as I sat on my stool, in the bar of The Coronet, with Mark nudging me in the ribs. I tried hard to get my senses back in order, but I had two men sitting beside me and distracting me. One giving me bruising in my side while his seemingly stunned boyfriend looked on, and the other paralysing me with his intense stare.
“So, can I look at your drawings?” Conor asked, politely ignoring the fact that he had rendered me mute. He looked down at my bag, which I had dropped at the foot of the stool on which I was sitting. I shuffled in my seat, tried hard to get some words together that would come out sounding normal.
“No!” I blurted out. God, where had that come from? No? You can’t say no to Conor O’Donnelly can you? He raised his eyebrows and a small smile played on his lips. For the first time, I noticed the way he smelled. Clean and fresh, like he had just come out of the shower. I drew in my breath, trying to get a hold of myself.
“I mean… they’re not really good enough to show to anyone,” I clarified. I heard Mark snort beside me and made a mental note to strangle him later, just as soon as Conor left. “They’re… private.”
“I see.” Conor’s eyes searched my face and I felt it get hot. I felt my colour rising. I had a pencil in my bag just the right shade to draw my face – deep crimson. “Well, maybe another time, when you get a little better?”
Just as I was thinking of a reply to this, a man came into the bar and Conor said hello and shook his hand.
“Hello, good of you to come.” Conor said. “Just let me get my coat and we’ll take my car.”
My brain felt like a fog had descended on it. This was surreal. Conor was in and out of my day like a curtain billowing in a breeze at a window.
Before he left he turned to me and said: “It was nice to meet you, um…” His eyes widened, questioning.
“Er… M… Marie,” I stammered. Stupid, stupid.
“Nice to meet you, Ermamarie.” He winked and his eyes twinkled, teasing me. Oh God!
And then he was gone, leaving the three of us with our mouths like a row of open doors. On the bar was his still full glass of whiskey. And his sunglasses. He had forgotten his sunglasses!
“How much do you think these cost?” Mark picked up the glasses and turned them over in his hands. In the emerald green of the lenses, the light from the ceiling reflected and threw out a prism of light that the artist in me filed and noted. “A thousand Euro?”
“Pretty near to,” Stephen said, taking them off him. “All the A-listers wear them.”
“Be careful with them,” I said, watching nervously as Stephen put them on.
“Hey,” he said, “look at me. I’m Conor!”
He did look comical, all pouty lips and fake O’Donnelly swagger. I tried hard not to laugh, but failed.
I grabbed them from Stephen’s face and put them back on the bar.
“Put them on, Marie, and I’ll take a photo of you,” Mark suggested, sounding excited at the idea. He took a camera out of his pocket and waved it, looking at me expectantly. I looked at him in horror!
“No way, are you crazy? Just leave them. They’re not ours to play with.”
“Ah, go on, Marie. You know you want to.”
And I was tempted. I hesitated, looking around to see where the bar tender was. He had his back to us and there was no one else in the room. I put the glasses on and Mark and Stephen both squealed in unison. Mark had the camera up in a second and was giggling excitedly.
“Oh, you look so cool, Marie. That’s it. Conor Marie!”
He clicked the camera, and then his face suddenly froze in a strange expression. An expression like fear.
“What’s up?” I asked. He was looking behind me and the hand holding the camera was shaking.
I heard a cough behind me. My heart stopped beating.
“Thanks for looking after those for me.”
Oh my God. Conor’s voice, behind me. It couldn’t be. Not for a fourth time today. And not NOW, for feck’s sake! I turned around slowly, like I was standing waist deep in treacle. I snatched the glasses off and held them out to him.
“I’m so sorry, Conor. I was just…” I was just what? Acting like a prat? Sure, why not?
“That’s okay,” he said as he took them from me. His fingers brushed my hand and I had the presence of mind to feel a tingle run up my arm.
“Now you owe me.”