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Authors: Radhika Sanghani

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BOOK: Not That Easy
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5

We had exchanged fourteen messages in three days and JT still hadn't asked me out. I was officially confused. Surely he was messaging me because he wanted to go on a date and shag me? In which case, why hadn't he suggested a date already?

The thought crossed my mind that maybe he was just enjoying getting to know me, but then I remembered Emma's words:
They all want to fuck you—it's just a game.
He was probably just trying to play it cool so he didn't come across as too keen. But I didn't care about that—I just wanted to be, well, wanted.

The girls thought this whole thing was about me trying to reach double digits by the time I was twenty-five, but there was more to it. Sex with Jack hadn't really felt like sex—it was just a few minutes of breaking my hymen. Now I wanted to do it properly and enjoy it. Em had amazing sex with Sergio and, even though Jez was a bit hit and miss, Lara always had fun in bed with him. Wasn't it my turn to get that?

I knew I hadn't ever met JT, and he could be a total disaster, but
he seemed like the ideal candidate to help me out there. And it was a two-way deal. We'd both get some fun out of it. It would be mutually beneficial if all went to plan and, if worst came to worst, I'd leave in the morning and never see him again. I'd get my chance to live it up and figure out womanhood, while he'd get a shag and an orgasm. Come to think of it, hopefully I'd get one of those too. I just needed some help.

I barged into Emma's room in my purple dressing gown patterned with white stars. “Ems, I need help.” She was lying in bed resting her head on Sergio's tanned, hairless torso. “Oh crap, I should have knocked, sorry. I didn't know you were here, Serge.”

“It's fine, come in,” he said and patted the duvet. I walked over and sat down with them.

“I don't know what to do about JT,” I moaned.

“How many messages has it been now?” asked Emma without moving her head off Serge's hot bod. This was not helping my self-esteem. “Twelve?”

“Fourteen. Surely that's a bit excessive now?”

“Why can't you ask him out?” asked Sergio.

“But . . . won't he think I'm desperate? What about the game?”

Emma scrunched up her face. “I don't know. I think the whole point of online dating is that it evens out the playing field. Like, obviously it's so sexist that society says men have to ask out women, but it is kind of ingrained. When a woman asks out a man in real life he's like, she's either desperate or a slut. But, online . . . well, it's kind of the norm, isn't it?”

“Huh, maybe,” I said as Sergio started covering Emma's face in tiny kisses.

“I didn't think you were desperate or a slut when you wrote your number on that receipt,” he said.

I rolled my eyes at them. “Can you get a room already?” He raised his eyebrows and gestured at Emma's purple fairy lights, leopard
print and fur. “You know what I mean,” I said. “Anyway, Emma, do you really think it's more acceptable for a girl to ask out a guy online?”

“Yeah,” she cried. “It's way more equal on there. In fact, I think women actually have more power than men on online dating sites. Because girls will get more messages than the guys and then when a guy does get a message, there's more of a chance he'll reply. Girls have more choice.”

I nodded slowly. “That makes sense. But what if he rejects me?”

“Who cares? He hasn't even met you—you're just pixels. It's like when Oxford University rejected my UCAS application before even meeting me. You can't get upset, because they don't even know who you are. They're just rejecting a piece of paper, or a bunch of words on a website in your case.”

“Yeah, you're so right,” I said. “You know what? I feel way more empowered. Thanks, Em. I don't give a shit if JT rejects me anymore. My personality comes through in person, not pixels. I bet he'd never turn down a one-night stand with me IRL, so who cares if he does online?”

“What's this IRL?” asked Sergio.

“In real life,” replied Emma and I automatically.

“Anyway, you can get back to having sex now,” I announced, as I walked out of the room. “I'm off to ask out a man.”

I sat in the living room staring blindly at the TV. JT still hadn't replied. The message I'd sent kept flashing up in my head:

So I was wondering if maybe we should meet in person? How about a drink?

It had been like two hours and he still hadn't replied. I'd managed to fuck it up with a guy without even meeting him. I was seriously doomed.

“Hey, El, how's it going?”

Ollie walked into the room and sat on the sofa next to me. I quickly pulled my leggings down so he wouldn't see my unshaven
legs. “Oh fine,” I said. “Only I just messaged a guy online and he hasn't replied. Such is my life.”

“Oh yeah? You know, I can't believe you're doing online dating.”

“What, why not?” I asked feeling semi-offended.

“I just wouldn't have thought you'd need to.”

Was that . . . a compliment? “Oh really? That's so nice.”

“Well, you're twenty-two. I would have thought that's a bit, like, young.”

“It is not too young,” I cried. “Hello, we live in the Tinder world. This is just what everyone does. How else are you meant to meet someone?”

“Yeah but Tinder seems more legit. Why didn't you just do that?”

“Because it still feels like a sex app and I like the idea of knowing someone's basic details and thoughts before meeting them.”

“So you're not looking for sex?” He grinned, showing his little dimples.

I blushed. “Well, I mean, I am. But I'd rather do it after a date, and not just in the loo of a bar.”

“Don't. You're making me nostalgic for my single days.”

“You had sex in a loo?”

“A girl went down on me outside the uni student union once. Pre-Yomi obviously.”

“Jesus,” I said, trying to ignore the fact that I was suddenly seriously envious of this blow job girl.

“I know. It was fucking fun.”

“Sounds it. So, Yomi straightened you out then?”

He grinned at me and I tried to not stare into his eyes. “I've still got my dirty side.”

I laughed. “Ew, you sound so pervy.”

“I try. So, who's this guy who isn't replying to you?”

“Ah he's called JT. Seems normal, hot and interesting. We've been messaging, but then I asked him out and he didn't reply.”

“You asked him out?”

“Should I not have? Is that weird? Oh God.”

“No, calm down. I think it's really cool. I don't think there are many girls who would do that. In fact, I'd be fucking thrilled if a girl asked me out.”

“Really?” He nodded and looked into my eyes. Oh Christ. I really had to stop fancying my flatmate who had a GIRLFRIEND. “I don't think Yomi would be,” I said, bringing the conversation back to the perfect doctor.

“Fair point. But she doesn't like a lot of what I do so . . .”

Did this mean there was trouble in paradise? “Really? What kind of stuff?” I asked.

“She doesn't really like my mates from home, which kind of bothers me. It's because most of them didn't go to uni, and I guess she finds them hard to relate to. But they're all really good guys. And she works so hard she's rarely up for going out. I know she's under a lot of pressure with her finals, but it's just difficult, you know?”

I nodded, trying to pretend I was au fait with relationship problems. “Yeah, that sounds difficult. It's why I don't want a boyfriend right now—I can't handle the compromises.”

“Ha. I know what you mean. We're too young to stop being selfish.”

“Exactly.” I grinned. “Maybe Yomi needs to remember to be younger.”

“Yeah, maybe. Hey, do you mind if I change the channel? Tottenham are playing.”

“Go for it. I, um, need to do something upstairs anyway.”

“Cool. See you later.”

I went up to my room with my heart fluttering. He was so insanely attractive, and if he and Yomi broke up, then Caesar would be answering all of my prayers. But, in the meantime, he'd still given
me an idea. I'd been so wrapped up in my profile that I'd forgotten I was competing with hundreds, nay
thousands
, of attractive single women online.

I needed to check out the competition. I went to OkCupid.com, logged out of my profile and clicked “create profile.” Select gender “male.”

I quickly made a basic profile (Tim201) and started searching. I wanted women aged twenty to twenty-nine. The list came up and my mouth dropped open in surprise. These profiles were nothing like my modest-but-flirty attempt. All these girls looked like part-time models, porn stars or Abercrombie & Fitch employees. I was doomed. Utterly doomed.

I clicked on Ange_xx. Her doe-eyed pose won me over immediately and I was semi-seduced by her pouting selfies. Oh God. Why would JT_ldn want to date me if there were girls like Ange_xx out there? I was officially fucked.

I scrolled back to my own profile and stared at the pictures in misery. They all looked like me. This was not going to work. Wasn't the whole point of online dating to make yourself look better than you really do? I needed to slut up my pics. ASAP.

My first port of call was Facebook. I went straight to my photos from sixth form. I sighed in relief as I flicked through them and realized I was right: my boobs were on show in every single one. I was caked in makeup, my curves were forced into miniscule dresses and I looked sexy enough to take on Ange_xx.

I selected one of the most blatant pictures and, ignoring the twinge of self-disapproval I was feeling, quickly made it my new profile picture. I knew Emma had said online dating was a feminist tool so I probably shouldn't have gone for such a tacky man-catching ploy, but if everyone else was doing it . . . Besides, I bet it wasn't just the girls. JT_ldn was probably four inches shorter and five years older than he promised.

Fuck, what if he had lied?

My phone beeped. There was a message from JT.

•   •   •

I'd love to. Think we should do it soon before you get a whole line of dates with your new profile picture. Very hot by the way.

I screeched out loud. Okay, it was kind of embarrassing he had noticed my photo ploy—but he also thought I was hot and wanted to go for drinks, and I had successfully asked out a guy! I was a woman of the future and a feminist in action. No one had to know I'd used a photo of my tits to do it.

6

I was standing at the entrance of Angel tube station trying to swallow the stress-induced gags my stomach kept heaving up. It was 8:03 p.m. and I was about to meet JT in person. I glanced around weakly but couldn't see anyone who looked six foot three with crinkly green eyes and dark blond hair. My watch said 8:06 p.m. Oh God. Was he about to stand me up?

My phone vibrated. Fuck, fuck, fuck. It was from him.

•   •   •

Hey, just inside next to the ticket machine. Wearing a red scarf. Holding a book. See you soon!

I sighed in relief that he hadn't stood me up—and then realized with a jolt that this was actually happening. I was about to have an actual Internet date. It was too late to run away. Oh God.

Feeling sicker than ever, I wrapped my jacket tightly around me
and slowly stepped into the station. The ticket machine was on the left. As promised, there was a tall man standing next to it. I quickly ducked behind a newpaper vendor and peeped out over his shoulder to spy on JT. I couldn't see his face but he was wearing a black woolen coat with a maroon scarf. I breathed out in relief; he looked hot from behind.

I stood up straight and boldly walked over to him. My blood was pounding, but I forced myself to keep going. When I was inches away, I cleared my throat. He turned around to face me and the smile on my face plummeted.

JT WAS ANCIENT.

He had wrinkles, graying hair and, oh my fucking God, was he missing a tooth?! I felt a stream of bile rise up into my mouth and I gagged audibly.

He opened his mouth to speak but before he could say a word, I whirled around and ran out of the station. When I was outside I started breathing slowly. It was okay. These things happened but at least I was in public and the elderly JT couldn't attack me. I was safe.

“Ellie,” called a voice behind me. Oh my fucking God. It was him—he'd found me and now he was about to attack me. I quickened my pace and ran past benches full of staring passersby. I turned my head to check if he was following me and fell flat on my face onto the pavement.

“Are you all right?”

I looked up in pain and saw an attractive blond man smiling above me. His dark green eyes crinkled as he smiled and there were no wrinkles to be seen. It was JT_ldn. The real one.

“I . . . don't understand,” I said. “You look like your picture.”

“Erm, should I not?” he asked, with a raised eyebrow. My eyes flew straight to his neck. He was wearing a bright red scarf, three shades lighter than the maroon scarf I'd just seen. With a wave of relief, I realized that this was the JT I'd meant to meet and the other man was just an awful, awful coincidence in a maroon scarf.

I had officially fucked up.

“No, no, it's a good thing, trust me,” I said, as I pulled myself off the curb.

“Right, and do you always run away from your dates? This is the first time I've had to chase after someone on a date you know.” He grinned.

I felt my cheeks flush as I realized what I'd just done. I had just run away from the hottest date I'd ever had. And then tripped on a jagged pavestone.

“So, um, about that,” I said sheepishly. “The red scarf thing kind of threw up a bit of confusion.”

“Go on . . .”

I sighed. “Well, there's a forty-year-old, fat, unattractive man wearing a red scarf down by the ticket machine. I thought he was you, or you were him, or I don't know . . .”

He threw back his head and howled with laughter. I noticed in relief that he had all his teeth. “That's hilarious. You thought I was some pedo?”

“Essentially . . . yeah.” I winced. “Sorry. I'm so embarrassed.”

“Don't be, this is a great story to tell the grandkids.” Grandkids?! We hadn't even held hands yet. “I'm kidding,” he added.

“Yeah, obviously,” I laughed nervously. “Sorry, I'm still all over the place from the whole pedo thing. And then the running away bit. Can we start over?”

He smiled and held out his right hand. “Sure, I'm JT. Good to meet you.”

“I'm Ellie. Nice to meet you too,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Great, so now we've got the formalities out of the way, how about we go and grab some food?” I nodded happily, ignoring the weighted lump of undigested pasta in my stomach reminding me I had just eaten a whole pack of tortellini. “So there's a fun Chinese buffet place up the corner. You keen?”

“Buffet?”

“Yeah, but you do have to be pretty hungry to get your money's worth, so if you're not that hungry we can always just get tacos or something elsewhere,” he suggested.

Tacos sounded perfect—but what if he thought I was one of those anorexic girls who couldn't handle buffets? My appetite was the one positive attribute guys loved about me. All my male friends were terrified of dating skinny dieting girls who only ordered salads and counted calories—they'd all told me this was my niche. Considering I didn't have that many, I knew I had to work it.

I mentally said goodbye to the light, refreshing tacos and prepared myself for a second carby dinner. “Buffet sounds great.”

“Are you sure?” he asked. There it was, my get-out card. I just had to say no and we could get tacos.

“Yeah, definitely. I'm starving.”

“Cool, it's just down here,” he said, gesturing as we started walking down the high street. “So, how has your day been?”

“Um, pretty uneventful until the last ten minutes,” I said.

“Same,” he laughed. “I can't say I imagined I'd be running down the street behind my first OkCupid date.”

“This is your first time too?” I asked.

“Yeah, I thought I'd give it a try and do something new.” He shrugged. “Everyone kept raving about it at work so I figured I'd give it a shot. What about you? What made you take the virtual leap?”

“Um . . .” I racked my brains for an appropriate response that didn't have the phrase
slut
or
one-night stand
in it. “Pretty much the same as you, really. Just something different.”

“Yeah.” He nodded. “I guess I'm just looking for whatever happens really. Whether that's a relationship or just . . . casual fun.” He looked straight into my eyes and I felt a tingle run up my spine. Thank God I'd shaved my legs and trimmed my bush—one-night stand here I come.

He looked at me questioningly and I realized I'd stopped walking. “Yeah, I'm the same,” I said. “Just looking for whatever life throws at me.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Are you quoting my dating profile?”

Oh fuck. I was unconsciously reciting the “Looking for” section of his profile. I knew I shouldn't have read it so many times. “Um, unintentionally?”

He laughed. “Well, at least you've done your homework. Gotta be safe, eh?”

“Exactly.” I grinned. “So, uh, is this the restaurant?” We were standing outside the fanciest Chinese restaurant I'd ever seen. Stone lions were wrapped around the columns at the front and the words “Red Dragon” were written in a non-tacky gold.

“This is it,” he said. “Hope you're hungry.”

My plate was heaped with Ma Po Tofu, steamed aubergine, egg fried rice and crispy seaweed. The whole thing cost £18.99 and I'd only eaten three chopsticks' worth.

“This is so good,” said JT, as he finished his first helping. “Do you not like it? You've barely eaten a thing.” He looked discerningly at the mound of food on my plate.

“Oh God, no, it's amazing, I'm just pacing myself.” I raised my chopsticks to my mouth and forced myself to swallow. It was the nicest Chinese I'd had in years but I was so full of £1.99 tortellini I couldn't eat it. Typical. “Anyway, tell me more about you,” I said. “You work for Marc Jacobs right? Are you going to get me freebies?”

“You're not the first person to ask me that, but no, I'm sorry, those are strictly for me. Shit, that makes me sound very camp, doesn't it?”

“Yeah, just a bit.” I smiled. “Honestly though, I was pretty relieved when I saw on your profile that you work in IT and not fashion.”

“Bit more manly, eh?”

“Totally,” I replied, wishing I could think of something witty to
add. Instead, I reached for my chopsticks and forced more mouthfuls down me.

“So I know you're interning for some crazy boss, but what exactly is the magazine? Is it a fashion one?” he asked.

“Uh, it's more just a bit of everything. It's the
London Mag
, have you heard of it?”

“Obviously,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “It's the new online one that's getting bigger each week. I'm impressed.”

“Yeah, except you forget I'm not actually getting paid for it.”

“This is some extensive hinting that you can't get the bill, Ellie,” he teased. “I would have paid anyway you know.”

I blushed and looked up at him through my layers of mascara in an attempt to look like Ange_xx. “I would never expect a man to pay for me.”

He laughed. “You're hilarious. I'm so glad I said yes to this date with you.”

I had no idea what I'd done that was so funny, but if he was enjoying the date, who was I to say otherwise? “Me too,” I said.

“I was kind of surprised when you asked me out though,” he admitted.

“What, why?” Shit—maybe Emma was wrong and it was still desperate to ask someone out online?

“I guess I'm not used to forward girls,” he said.

Forward?! I wasn't FORWARD. I was a virgin at twenty-one, forchrissake.

“Right.”

“No, it's not a bad thing. It's . . . sexy. I like it. In fact, I like it so much that I'm going to get the bill and rescue you from that plate of food that you clearly don't want to eat.”

Oh my God, I didn't have to eat my cold Chinese. This was it—he was officially the one. You could fall in love with one-night-stands-to-be, right?

BOOK: Not That Easy
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