The effect was instantaneous. The girl yelped and stumbled backwards, cartwheeling into a bowl of soup and landing on an old woman a few tables away. She had tears in her eyes and her hand was pink. You could almost feel the heat radiating from it, see the blood pumping through those purple veins. Jason leapt to his feet and pulled the pad off of his hand. Damn. He had forgotten he had that on. He threw the pad in the bag and pushed his chair back onto the floor. “Oh god, are you ok?”
The girl pushed herself upwards and shrugged off the hands of several waiters trying to help her up. “I-I’m fine.” She sniffed and walked back to the table. She wobbled a bit on her feet and her hands were trembling.
“What was that?”
Jason shrugged and sat back down in his chair. His heart was hammering an erratic beat in his chest. “I don’t know,” he lied. The girl nodded and smiled, before sitting down in the seat opposite. Jason cursed inwardly. There was no getting out of this now. Oh god...he could just imagine his friend’s faces if they saw this. He would be ridiculed for the rest of his life. No girl would ever go out with him, and he would be kicked off the football team. This was a disaster. Maybe he could just stand up and leave? Would she notice? Jason gave himself a virtual slap on the face. Course she would notice - she was sitting across from him! Could this be any worse? Wait...he might be able to rescue this....
“What’s your name?”
Jason hurtled back into reality and blinked. The girl was sitting across from his. She was definitely in her twenties. Her face was coated in make-up, but even through all of the chemicals and gunk, Jason could see the first whispered lines of aging peeking through her soft and pale skin. Her hair was dull and brown, ordinary, and she was wearing contacts. Great. A glasses girl.
Jason took a deep breath. He could still have some fun with this, yeah, give Drew something to laugh about... “I’m Oliver Klozoff. And you are?”
The girl’s eyebrows folded inwards and she laughed hysterically. “Oliver Klozoff? All of your clothes off?” She laughed again, tears pricking her eyes and her nails scrabbling over the pale arch of her knuckles.
“Really?” She sniffed and put her head in her hands. “Oh god, I’m going insane.” She wiped her eyes and straightened up. “I’m Tess. Tess Marie. ”
Jason felt a spike of guilt in his heart. This was not going well. He tried to smile. “Jason Chase.”
“Oh.” Tess paused and sniffed again. Her face was flushed red and her bottom lip was wobbling. “This is a-awkward, isn’t it?”
Jason nodded. “I guess. If you don’t mind me asking, eh...why were you pretending to be a teenage girl? I mean, I was expecting...” Jason bit his lip. He could see Tess’s lip quavering, her eyes brimming with tears. God, why was he so insensitive? “Look, no, I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter...”
Tess shook her head. “No. I always knew this was going to be bad.” She sniffed and buried her head in her hands. “God, I always knew this was a bad idea!” She took a deep breath and dropped her hands to the table. “You know how you’re always hearing stories about men on these sites, talking to girls? Well, I...I... I was hoping...I thought...” Tess let out a lupine howl and thrust her head into her hands. Her nose was blooming red and funny red patches were pricking under her eyes. Tears streamed down her face in a torrent - she had obviously been holding them in for a few weeks.
Jason sat awkwardly on the other side of the table. He could feel everyone’s eyes on his back, staring at him, tutting as he did nothing to comfort the crying woman across from him. But what could he do?! He had no idea what to do - it wasn’t as though this happened every day. Jason sighed under his breath and scooted forward in his chair. “Eh, it’s ok?” He tapped Tess on the arm. “It’s ok, just calm down...stop crying...stop crying, shut up...” Tess howled again and Jason jerked backwards. How do you comfort women? If it was one of his mates he’d...he’d...well, none of his mates would burst out crying over a simple question. Laughter? Maybe he could make her laugh? Yeah, maybe that would work...
Jason reached under the table and grabbed the plastic bag. He plunged his hand into its depths and grabbed the first thing he could find. The rubber chicken. He looked at it for a moment, incredulous. Oh, brilliant. He glanced at Tess. She was crying harder than ever, her tears dotting the red table cloth in a lopsided circle. Jason bit his lip. He had no time to choose something else.
“Here, Tess. Look, it’s ok.” Hr put the rubber chicken on the table and pulled his face into a smile. “There look - it’s a chicken. A funny, happy, chicken.” He smiled again and picked up the chicken. It’s naked, plastic body was rough and ugly under his fingers, its scrawny red neck flopping down over his arm. “Look, Tess. Come on, smile? Please smile? Oh god, please smile...people are staring...”
Tess looked up. Her face was red and blotchy and her eyes were round and watery. The tears had stopped flowing. Her eyes were trained on the rubber chicken. “What’s that?” Her voice wobbled as she spoke.
Jason put the chicken down on the table and grinned. “It’s a rubber chicken. Why?”
“Why do you have it with you?” Tess voice became stronger, and Jason could feel something bubbling under her tearful exterior.
“In fact, I don’t even want to know.” She sniffed and straightened up. Her back was still bent over slightly and she was looking at the table cloth. “I-I was hoping you would be one of those men, ok? It never occurred to me that a teenage boy m-might actually be a teenage boy...”She hiccupped. “It was stupid of me. I’m such an idiot!” She groaned and Jason noticed a tear sliding down her face. “My boyfriend dumped me, and I-”
“Wait, your boyfriend dumped you? Why?”
Tess blinked. “He s-said I was too smart for him. Too c-clever...” Her lip wobbled again and Jason held his breath. No tears. It was fine. He could continue.
“Too clever? That’s not right, is it? He’s just too stupid, isn’t he?” Jason crossed his arms and leaned forward. “I don’t think you’re too clever.”
“You think so?”
Jason paused and then nodded. “You saw through my fake name quick enough. And you don’t seem pretentious or anything. You said when we were chatting online that you liked books?”
Tess nodded and sniffed back another tear. “Yeah. Th-the classics are my favourite. Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Gray, War of the Worlds...”
“War of the Worlds? That’s a great book! I read it a few years ago.” Jason ducked his head and blushed bright pink. “I mean, my teacher made me read it.” He could imagine his friend’s looks, their sniggers and jeers. He didn’t read. He was proud of the fact he didn’t read...except from that book. And a few others.
“You’ve read it? It’s good, isn’t it? I was biting my nails when the Martians came out of their shell. It was enthralling - a great example of literature.” Tess was smiling and her voice was stronger, firmer. “I’m an English major at university. War of the Worlds was one of the books I was going to do my English exam on, but I chose To Kill a Mockingbird instead. Have you read that?”
Jason shook his head. A genuine smile came across his face and he leaned back into the chair. “No. I’m not a big reader, if I’m honest. Do you, eh, want to get some grub? Talk about this over some pasta?”
Tess laughed and rubbed her puffy red eyes. The blotches had vanished from under her nose and the tear streaks had faded backwards into her pale skin. “Yeah, why not?” She smiled warmly. “It’s been a while since I’ve just talked to someone. You don’t mind do you?”
Jason winked. This was fun, better than what he had expected - even without the added hilarity of fake flies.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t really talk to people that much either. My friends are too occupied with practical jokes to pay attention to me most of the time.”
Tess nodded. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to. I never really talked to Rob, he was always...”
Jason felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Tess’s mouth was still moving. He glanced up. “Will you excuse me for a moment?”
Tess nodded and Jason murmured a thank you, before slipping the phone out of his pocket. The screen lit up with a text message from Drew.
HEY JUST GOT A MESSAGE FROM POKEGIRL56 - SHE WANTS TO MEET U TONITE. U UP
FOR IT? EXTRA PRANKING!
Jason paused, his fingers hovering over the keypad. It would be so easy to type yes, to live up to Drew’s meagre expectations. Jason smiled, and looking over at Tess, pressed a button on a keypad. There was a ding as the message sent, and he slid the phone in his pocket. Tess was flicking through the menu, her hair falling over her eyes. She looked so happy, a different person to the nervous, awkward girl who had walked in less than fifteen minutes before. Her eyes sparkled in the light of the flickering candle. “Who were you texting?”
Jason shrugged. “One of my friends. Now, what’s good in this place? I’m starving.” In his pocket, he felt his phone vibrate. There was no need to answer it - he already knew what it would say:
WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO?