Home > The Plus One Pact

The Plus One Pact
Author: Portia MacIntosh




You can’t put a price on finding love. If you could, it wouldn’t be £10.

I’ve been playing the dating game for a while now but I just can’t seem to complete it – and I’m usually so good at games. No matter which level I try, there’s always a hole to fall down or a monster to eat me – metaphorically speaking, of course, although with dating apps you only ever feel a few bad decisions away from ending up in someone’s freezer.

Recently I have been using an app called Matcher. You know the drill, swipe left or right on singles in your area, all the while hoping not to get connected with a murderer or, worse, someone who doesn’t know what punctuation is. All of my dates so far have ranged from pretty rubbish to monumentally awful. It’s safe to say that the date I’m on right now is one of the worst ones.

I look down at the £10 note. Holding it out in front of me, gently waggling it to try and encourage me to take it, is Matt. After chatting with Matt on Matcher for over a week, tonight we had our first date. I’ve had some bad first dates recently but this is the first time there has been any discussion of money changing hands.

Matt, a twenty-eight-year-old from Huddersfield (who I matched with while he was in Leeds for the day), caught my eye with his fun-loving profile. Well, he was someone a little different from the young professionals who take themselves too seriously and brag about their latest holidays – it gets a bit tiresome when there’s no chemistry to make it worth looking at that photo of them hugging a clearly sedated tiger in Thailand.

I agreed to meet Matt on his turf, which was a little out of my comfort zone, but you’ve got to be willing to meet people in the middle (or Huddersfield) if you want to find love. Everything about dating involves stepping out of your comfort zone. But when I turned up at the address he gave me it wasn’t a bar or a restaurant, it was a house. His house, I assumed as I hovered outside on the pavement, so relieved I had decided to wear black jeans and a nice top, rather than a dress, because I would have been so annoyed if I’d shaved my legs for this. Naturally I wanted to scarper but the front door opened before I had a chance and a woman in her late fifties stepped out.

‘You must be Cara,' she said warmly, spotting me on the pavement, all smiles as she hurried down the short garden path to give me a big hug. I froze in her arms as my brain tried to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. She was much shorter than me so her face pressed awkwardly into my chest. She was all dressed up as if she was heading out on a date. Her perfume was overwhelmingly strong, and definitely the scent of a more mature lady. A heavy, floral scent that reminded me of my grandma’s usual go-to perfume.

Then it hit me. This woman was dolled-up to go out, she said my name, she hugged me as if she knew me… had it finally happened? Had I finally been catfished? I’d been caught out by guys who were much shorter, heavier or older than their pictures or profiles let on before. As deceptive as it felt, I got it, we all want to show our good side, I’d put filters on my photos and never upload anything where I didn’t look my best, but there’s a difference between being a different height and being a different everything.

‘Matt?’ I said slowly as the horror set in.

‘Yes, let me show you inside,’ she replied, ushering me up the steps. ‘I’m Lizzie, his mum.’

I let out a sigh of relief so strong I swear I almost caused the front door to slam closed.

As soon as I realised that Lizzie wasn’t Matt, I softened, ticking myself off for thinking the worst.

I felt so daft for jumping to such a wild conclusion, which is probably why I was so quick to put aside any concerns one might usually have when they turn up to a first date and it’s the guy’s mum who greets them.

Once inside the old, stone terraced house, I was ushered into the living room. There, sitting on a leather corner sofa in a room that was clearly too small to accommodate it, was Matt. The Matt from the photos on his profile – thank God. Tall, skinny, hair spiked up in a way I hadn’t seen since the noughties. Kind of goofy-looking but in a charming way. Next to Matt was a boy of about ten.

‘Cara!’ Matt said with delight, jumping to his feet to give me a hug with a familiarity that you don’t usually expect from someone you haven't actually met before.

‘Hi,’ I said. It was about all I could say. Not only was I nervous, like almost everyone is on a first date, but something just didn’t feel quite right.

‘OK,’ Lizzie said with a clap of her hands. ‘I’m going to get going. There’s pizza money under the vase by the door, plenty of pop in the fridge. I’ll try not to be late. You three have fun.’

‘Great, bye, Mum,’ Matt called after her.

‘Bye, Gran,’ the boy said without taking his eyes off the TV.

I didn’t know what to say. I was just frozen on the spot, standing next to the door. What had I walked into? Should I just leave?

‘I’m so glad you came,’ Matt said. ‘This is Kieran.’

‘Hi, Kieran,’ I said politely.

He said hi without looking at me. He was far too engrossed in the TV show he was watching. It was one of those real-life police shows where they follow officers around on car chases and drug busts. I wasn’t entirely sure it was appropriate for a child of his age, but what do I know?

‘Is this your son?’ I asked.

‘What? No! Of course not,’ he replied. He seemed offended I had asked. ‘Don’t you think I would have mentioned that I had a son, if I had a son?’

‘Sorry,’ I said quickly.

‘No worries, come sit down,’ he said, nudging me towards the sofa, ushering me down next to Kieran.

It turned out that Kieran was Matt’s nephew – his older sister’s son. It didn’t sound as though his sister was a very hands-on mum; it seemed more as if Lizzie took care of him. It became very quickly apparent that Lizzie had gone out on a date and that my date with Matt was taking place at the house, with Kieran on the sofa, watching his police shows.

Honestly, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do. Matt definitely should have mentioned to me that this was what the plan for this evening was, right? Unless it changed last minute but, still, he could have texted me.

‘Do you have any kids?’

‘None that I know of,’ I joked. I love making that joke. When men make it I find it kind of gross but there’s something so funny about a woman saying it.

‘What?’ he replied, a little taken aback by my reply.

‘None that I know of,’ I said again, saying it slower this time so he could tell I was kidding.

‘Right… yeah…’ he replied awkwardly. ‘I guess we all could, when you think about it.’

We really couldn’t.

So we ordered pizza and we watched old episodes of Road Wars and Banged Up Abroad because it was the only thing Kieran was interested in.

My job, which is honestly the least interesting thing I could talk about right now, given how bizarre my date is tonight, involves knowledge of different locks. This was something Matt knew about so, as we watched a young man being arrested for having a belly full of cocaine condoms (seriously, why are people letting a kid watch this kind of thing?) he leaned over and assured me that he had a pair of handcuffs that ‘not even I would be able to get out of’. The look on his face was so smarmy. The unsubtle grin, the even less subtle wink – clear indicators that Matt already thought he was in there. At that point, manners be damned, and after two hours of enduring, well, whatever this weird non-date was, I knew that it was time to leave.

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