“You mean to say you’ve never seen Jules et Jim?”
I nod, and wonder why this is such a terrible crime. You would think, from the way that Sophie’s eyes have widened, that I’d just confessed to sacrificing household pets.
“It’s a classic,” Sophie tells me, which means absolutely nothing except to say that it is her own favourite film.
“If you say so,” I reply. “Personally, I think it takes more than subtitles and shagging to make a decent piece of cinema.”
For a moment I can’t tell if I’ve offended her, but then she smiles and effortlessly picks up another piece of California roll. When she suggested sushi for our first date, I thought she was a girl after my own heart, but there’s something curiously emasculating about her nimble manipulation of the chopsticks. I fumble with my own for half a minute, then shamefacedly resort to using my fingers.
Sophie goes on to ask me what the last book I read was, and I chew my salmon for far longer than necessary while trying to decide whether to namedrop an impressive doorstep of a novel or simply tell the truth.
“Freakonomics,” I say eventually. Sophie gives me a look of sheer, undiluted blankness for a moment, then launches into an impassioned case for why her new favourite read, Chocolat, might be the best book ever written. I resist the urge to ask her whether she might prefer our date if I were an actual Frenchman, and reach for the tokkuri of sake that the waitress has just brought to the table.
“Oh, no thank you,” Sophie wrinkles her nose and places a delicate, defensive hand over her tiny cup. “I can’t stand that stuff.”
I shrug and help myself.
“It’s an acquired taste,” I say, not meaning to sound half as patronising as I do.
An uncomfortable silence falls on the table as Sophie nibbles on a sliver of ginger and I drink my sake. Why isn’t this working? I ask myself. I’m sat across from an attractive, arguably intelligent, attractive woman, but something doesn’t feel right. And it’s not just the chopstick thing.
I awkwardly scrape the caviar off the one remaining piece of sushi before eating it. Sophie watches me as I do it, and her expression once again betrays my sacrilege. I bet she’s the kind of person who drinks champagne, regardless of whether she enjoys it or not.
The waitress brings us the bill. Your server tonight was Aiko, it says. Aiko is quite pretty. That’s not a good train of thought to be following on a date, I tell myself. Especially when, if you play your cards right, you could still be onto a sure thing…
I pay, and Sophie doesn’t even slightly pretend to reach for her wallet; somehow that makes her seem charmingly old-fashioned. I don’t know if it’s the beer I had before dinner, or the sake, or maybe just the way Sophie looks as she stands up and smoothens her dress, but I’m starting to feel pretty good about tonight. At the very least, I had dinner with a beautiful girl (and I may have written my phone number on the cheque for Aiko).
The taxi rank is just down the street, and Sophie leans into me as we walk out into the cold night air. I instinctively wrap an arm around her shoulder, and find myself baffled at how naturally all this comes when there isn’t a table and conversation and bloody Jules et Jim getting in the way of everything.
“I had a great time tonight,” Sophie says, and I say the same, even though I doubt either of us really did. It’s just part of the ritual. Nobody likes to be rude, not when there’s the slightest chance of coitus in the air. When we reach the first taxi, she places one hand on the passenger door, but lingers.
This is it. That brief, tender window in which she decides whether or not to invite me back to hers for a nightcap. I can tell almost straight away that whatever I’ve done tonight has been enough to swing the verdict in my favour; as I am about to bid Sophie goodnight, she stands up on tiptoe and kisses me.
She’s a little more forceful than I’d expected, and she tastes like lip gloss and salmon, but I’ve kissed worse. Yet still, I pull away. Some girls are just like caviar. I know I should like it, but for some reason I just don’t.
At first Sophie looks confused, then wounded, but they both quickly give way to icy indifference. “Night then,” she sniffs, and gets into the car.
It was a lovely first date, but I very much doubt there will be a second. Why? A horny, indignant voice in my head asks as Sophie’s taxi vanishes around a corner. Why on earth would you pass that up?
“Because,” I tell myself out loud, “I am warm sake, and she is caviar.”