The Missing Piece - Catherine Miller Page 0,1

décor, I love this place for a lot of reasons, but Tess is the main one. The place is named after her: Tess’s Treats. Although Tess’s Unicorn Menagerie would be more apt. I come for lunch every day and on the days she isn’t too busy, she sits with me. I don’t have to be lonely here. I think we might even be friends.

The person entering is the one I’m waiting for. He’s shorter than his dating profile claims. He’s at least two inches out on his supposed five foot eleven. It irks me that he hasn’t been more accurate on this fact. I’ve never understood the need to exaggerate (or lie to be more specific) about something that can easily be clarified by a tape measure.

I behave myself by not getting mine from my bag.

‘Hi, Keisha? I’m hoping I’ve got the right person, but as you’re the only one here it seems likely.’

Without doubt my dating profile is more accurate than his. My five foot eight, black hair, green eyes, mixed race, slim build, is a true portrayal of myself beyond the headshot.

I stand, and extend a hand to shake. ‘Hi, Phil.’

‘Yeah, right, okay.’ Phil reciprocates the handshake awkwardly. ‘I nearly didn’t find this place.’ He glances round as if he’s never been in a unicorn-themed café before. He’s nervous and I wonder what his heart rate is. From what I can tell, it’s certainly higher than mine. I take my seat again. I’ve already purchased my coffee to save the inevitable argument of going Dutch.

‘Do you come here often?’ he jokes, still awkward.

‘Two hundred and thirty-six times this year,’ I say, realising I shouldn’t add the fact that thirty-eight of those occasions were for dates like this one. ‘It’s close to my work.’

He laughs as if my accuracy is a number plucked out of thin air for the sake of a joke. ‘Did you want anything? I’m going to get a drink.’

‘I’m good, thanks. I didn’t want to take up a table without ordering something.’ My mug is half empty already. I’m glad. Already I know he is not the one. My finger has been on my pulse point the whole time and there is no heart-rate jump in response to meeting this man. I peel my fingers away after gathering all the information I need.

‘Where do you work then?’ Phil joins me at the small wooden table. This is my regular spot because I can see the world pass by. It’s upcycled along with all the other furniture in the café. This one has pale-blue paint with an extra coating of glitter. Tess insists on adding sparkle wherever possible. ‘I’m guessing it must be the university if this is your lunch stop.’

It’s a bad starter-question and yet so many dates set off like this, as if they want to hit the jugular from the very beginning. I always wonder if some of them have a list of approved professions they’re willing to date (lawyer, teacher, CEO = yes, circus acts = a firm no) without any concern for whether that person can make them smile, or shares their values: things that will actually help provide longevity in a relationship. I want to tell him where he’s going wrong, but I’ve found my earlier dates didn’t take kindly to feedback.

‘What music do you like?’ I’m not going to answer his question. I don’t know him from Adam and if he’s happy to lie about his height then he may have an unholy number of other distasteful habits. Stalking is the one I’m always fearful of, hence why I never let anyone know where I work or where I live. A somewhat complex stance when attempting to conquer the field of dating.

‘Oh, I see. Dodge the question. You can tell me the answer later.’ Phil winks as he says it. He’s not my type. He has glasses that belong in an eighties movie, and a goatee that doesn’t suit him and which he’s failing to maintain at a reasonable level. He has a nervous habit of rubbing his beard and poking his glasses back up his nose, all with one hand in a sweeping movement. He’s doing it so often I’m having to quash the urge to ask him to stop. In his dating profile he looks cool and quirky. Two words people have used to describe me in the past. I thought perhaps quirky was going to be enough – clearly I’m wrong. ‘You’re as beautiful as your