Hodges stood at the perfume counter feeling very much like a fish out of water. People like him didn't frequent department stores for cologne, they waited until Christmas when their great aunt Sylvia sent them some from Canada and they made do with it for the rest of the year.
The counter assistant eyed him suspiciously as he picked up a ridiculous looking bottle and turned it over in his hands. She immediately made her way across to him and his first instinct was to run as fast as he could away from this situation. Morgan's words resounded in his head and while he would never admit it to her, he cared what she thought of him. Perhaps a little too much.
So instead of running he replaced the garish bottle and casually strode to the other side of the perfume counter to survey the array of elaborately decorated bottles there. It was all rather daunting; he had always tried not to judge a book by its cover but according to these samples he was supposed to choose simply based on how ornamental the bottles were.
"can I help you sir?" the counter assistant had foiled his avoidance plan by taking advantage of the space between the shelving unit's to stand in front of him with her immaculately set hair and ruby red lips.
"Uhh no, its fine… absolutely fine. I'm ok by myself." He mumbled as he shuffled along the counter in an attempt to escape. The many different bottles stretching out in front of him was rather overwhelming and his uneasiness must have showed on his face. The assistant approached him again handing him a bottle shaped like a torso.
"Do you know what you're looking for? Something... fruity, sexy, musky, masculine….?" Hodges simply stared at her and sprayed some liquid from the bottle before taking a deep breath. "That's Jean Paul Gaultier – Le Male. It's popular with the… homosexual community"
"Well… then…" he stuttered, trying to replace the bottle casually and almost destroying the entire display "I'm not…that's not me… not that there's anything wrong with homosexuality… it's just … not… not my thing. I… I think …I'd prefer to shop on my own!"
With a smile and a nod the cashier disappeared to serve a small woman on the other side of the counter. Hodges surveyed the various bottles again. Some elaborately designed to look like a fist, a face or a weight. The names were equally as outrageous; champion, infusion, one… it all seemed rather ridiculous. He only wanted one that wouldn't repulse everyone with a sense of smell.
He picked up an incredibly complex looking apple shaped bottle and turned it over in his hands trying to figure out how it worked. He jumped when the fruity smelling liquid sprayed out of some amazingly well hidden spout and covered his face, almost dropping the offending bottle while meeting the eye of none other than Morgan on the other side of the counter.
"I…I uh… I was just looking for something…. For … for my girlfriend" he stuttered, trying to justify his presence there without her finding out he cared what she thought.
"And your girlfriend is a …man?" she smiled, picking up another apple shaped bottle and wrinkling her nose up at the scent escaping the nozzle.
"No! No… I… why would you say that?"
Morgan raised an eyebrow and gestured at the men's fragrances surrounding them.
"Kinda on the wrong side for a girl there Hodges… you trying to tell me something?" she grinned, clearly enjoying his discomfort a little too much.
"Well with all the… natural musk in the lab… I guess I forgot what a feminine scent is like!" She threw him a shocked expression before turning on her heel and marching away "okay, okay… so maybe I need your help" she paused but didn't turn around "please?"
With a heavy sigh she turned to face him "fine. But you're buying me lunch."
"We'll start by moving away from the cologne. I'm guessing this girl would be a bit insulted by 'pour homme'…"
Hodges followed her around the counter, eyeing the men's fragrances longingly as he passed. He wondered why he hadn't just picked up the fist shaped bottle and high tailed it out of there. A fist was masculine, it probably smelled ok. He was certain it would be over priced and mainstream, Morgan would surely have liked it.
"So… what's she like?" Morgan looked at him with a bright smile. So friendly and unassuming, so eager to help him out of the goodness of her heart even after he insulted her.
"What do you mean?" he asked, horrified that he was asked to describe his fake girlfriend to her.
"Well… is she sweet, feisty, aggressive, timid, pretty, plain, geeky… the possibilities are endless" she was distractedly tilting bottles without looking at him as he ran through all the reasons why this was a bad idea. He should just tell her the truth. She would probably help him buy cologne; it would certainly be a better story than helping him buy perfume for his non-girlfriend.
"She's…. she's" he hadn't thought this through. It just came out; like his mouth couldn't stop saying words he had no control of. He hadn't had time to think up a description of this mystery, made up woman. "She's …just like you"
She didn't notice the longing in his eyes, a slight frown crossing her features as she wondered why he was staring at her. Her eyes didn't linger on his for long; she turned back to the bottles with a nervy smile. He watched her as she scanned the bottles, taking in the tiniest of details with merely a glance, her fingers dancing over the contours of the bottles daintily.
"What about this one?" she picked up a bottle and sent the spray flying onto her skin offering him her wrist with a smile. He dutifully breathed in the musk, enjoying the way it mingled with her own body scent. It tickled his nose and he worked hard to suppress the sneeze irritating him.
"Ok what about this?" she didn't wait for him to respond before spraying her other wrist with a different fragrance and holding it up for him to consume. This one was fruitier, richer and a little heavier. It didn't sit well on her skin, she was fresh and light. Like a stream skipping over rocks on its way home, seeking freedom in the wide open sea.
He nodded but apparently she wasn't happy with that response. She moved along the rows upon rows of fragrances again, selecting one carefully and spraying it on her neck, tilting her head to allow him access to the miles of milky skin not normally exposed to the light of day, not usually exposed to his breath or his lips.
He could picture it; almost feel her skin under his lips. The scent of the perfume clouding around him and enticing him further, he could so easily surrender. It would be simple; he could just press his lips against her and see what happened. He swallowed the lump in his throat and closed the space between them, dipping his head slowly so that she could feel his breath against her exposed skin. He took a deep breath, pretending to inhale the scent of the perfume.
"I think that's the one" he said, nervously clearing his throat as he backed away from her. His eyes were involuntarily casting over her, following the elegant curve of her neck and shoulders. His reaction was surprisingly physical. His throat was suddenly dry, his palms clammy, and his heart racing just from being so close to her. He could only imagine what it would actually do to him if he ever did kiss her.
He paid for the useless perfume with a strange sense of completion. She hadn't darted off on some imaginary date the second he was done with her; she wound her arm around his as they strolled around the department store together. She didn't make her excuses and head off on her own. She was happy to spend time with him. It was all very surprising.
"So where are you taking me for lunch then?" she smiled up at him as they passed the shelves stocked with handbags of all descriptions. He could never walk past an aisle full of accessories when he was shopping with his mother. He would always end up spending too much time discussing the benefits and disadvantages of having pockets or zips or charms dangling from the handle.
"Ladies choice, your wish is my command" he stated with an exaggerated bow.
"Hmmm I think I'm in the mood for something… noodley"
"Noodley?" he queried, surprised by her choice until she nodded her head towards a small restaurant directly in front of them. "Ahh noodles…they're weird...their like the hair on my cousin's doll...that thing was creepy. I swear it was staring at me..."
Morgan stared at him in disbelief as they wandered past the noodle restaurant. He shot down a further 4 restaurants before settling in the Rainforest café.
"I can't believe you blew off Asia Noodle for this place!" she remarked as she glanced around at the trees and animated animals dotted around. They were seated in a quiet booth by the waterfall, surrounded by fish in tanks. "I haven't been here since I was a kid!"
"I'll have you know their Macadamia encrusted Talapia is to die for" Hodges remarked sitting upright in his chair in indignation.
"I had a birthday party here when I was 9, Cha-Cha the frog came out and we all congo-ed around the volcano" she smiled. Her face seemed clouded with a sort of nostalgia as she watched the smiling faces of the children tackling their ice cream mountains with enthusiasm.
"Sounds like a lot of fun" he said, ordering them both a ridiculously large rainforest cocktail.
"It was…" she said with a bitter smile taking a long sip of the bright orange concoction the waiter placed in front of her. "Until my parents got in this huge argument and I spent the rest of the party hiding in the tree house with my Tuki the elephant toy"
"I never had a birthday party…" he muttered, grimacing at the potency of the alcohol in his drink.
"What? Never? Like, never ever?" he shook his head, watching her lips hovering over her straw "that's really sad…"
"No, it's fine" he said shaking his head and sipping his cocktail again. The taste becoming familiar to him "I've never been that external"
Morgan's laugh resounded around their little booth as she almost choked on her drink.
"Oh please, you are always over sharing!" she laughed, the thick blonde curls bouncing around her face. "You can't keep anything to yourself!"
"Hey, I'll have you know my mind is a veritable mine field of information. I can't help it if people come to me for advice. If…at... times something was to slip out … it would be totally outwith my control!" he quirked an eyebrow in her direction, wondering if she was able to see through his weak attempt at justifying his gossiping nature. The truth was he knew a lot more than she thought and kept plenty to himself.
"Hmm try not to let anything slip out while I'm in the bathroom then" she smiled, excusing herself from the table.
Hodges sat back in the chair and surveyed the restaurant around him. He wondered briefly if this could count as a date or more importantly if she would count it as a date. It wasn't necessarily a date place. It was filled with children and families, a few large tables of over-excited tourists were shoved on the far away wall with the couples mostly nestled by the waterfall away from the main stretch.
"I got you something while I was away" she beamed when she returned to the table, holding her hands behind her back "pick one"
Hodges eyed her suspiciously before gesturing to her right arm and she dramatically revealed a tiger print party hat. With a cheeky smile she slid it onto his head, pinging the elastic under his chin. As he began to protest she quirked an eyebrow and placed a leopard print hat on her own head as she slid into the seat beside him.
"this is ridiculous!" he commented as he moved to remove the hat but her hand wrapped around his and pulled him to rest on the table as a man in a frog costume descended on their table singing 'Happy Birthday' as loud as he could. A cake was slid onto the table complete with firecracker candles and confetti. It was the most humiliating, and fun, thing he had ever done.
"Make a wish!" Morgan cried as the fireworks died down enough and the smoke began to clear. If only she knew what he was wishing for, he wondered if she would still be so keen for him to wish it.
"You know it's not even my birthday?" he declared when the rabble of staff had disappeared and they were left alone to their meal. He slipped the hat from his head and placed it on the table beside the cake, a strange sense of melancholy settling on him.
"I know… I just think everyone should have a giant frog sing happy birthday to them at least once in their lives" she smiled, her eyes holding his gaze for a moment longer than she should and making his breath catch in his throat.
"Well thank you for not forcing the Congo around the volcano on me…" he smiled, raising his glass toward her before taking a log drag from the straw.
"Oh we've not had anywhere near enough cocktails for that! That's for later!" she teased making Hodges relax in his chair, this was new to him. She was actually having a good time and he felt safe in the knowledge that she wasn't going to run off at the first opportunity. Maybe this wasn't a real date, maybe it was a purely platonic outing between friends but she was enjoying herself as much as he was. she was smiling and laughing and twirling her hair around her finger.
Maybe it wasn't a real date and he was buying himself a one way ticket to the friend zone but Hodges decided that either way the best thing he could do was to sit back and enjoy the ride.