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She worked in the canteen underneath the Cronin Stand at Parramatta Stadium. I used to see her every fortnight, as my dad and I had Eels season tickets. It was my job to go downstairs and buy the snacks every game, and she would always serve up our two pies, hot chips, one coke, and one cup of white tea (no sugar) with a laugh and a lively smile. It was 1990, I was in year twelve doing the HSC, and had never had a girlfriend or even been on a date.
I'd always go downstairs during the first half of reserve grade, when the queues would be shortest. While she gathered up our order she'd always have time for a chat. Ends up that she too was doing the HSC, and so was working part-time at the stadium until school was over. Around May we swapped names as she was handing me the change. She just threw out a casual "By the way, what's your name?" and added "My name's Belinda-Jayne - with a y - and don't forget it!"
One day in June, as Belinda-Jayne (with a y) was getting my hot chips out of the fryer, she said "Can I ask you a question?" I said "Sure" and then she asked "Would you like to spend my break with me? It's just that I get a bit lonely here, and I don't really like football." So I took dad's pie and white tea back to him upstairs, and explained that I'd bumped into someone I knew, and was going to go and chat with them for a while.
We sat out in the shade behind the grandstand, carefully away from the canteen so that Belinda-Jayne's middle-aged supervisors couldn't see us. It was a really, really good getting-to-know-you chat - one of those rare times when new people find so much in common! Her break was only half an hour, but we'd chatted for 45 minutes. She went back to work, and I went back to my seat just in time to watch first grade.
I was a nervous kid in some ways, not blessed with the confidence or immunity to risk to make it easy for me to ever ask anyone out. So the season wore on and Belinda-Jayne and I continued our ritual of, flirting in the canteen and then chatting during her breaks each game, no longer constrained by the stainless-steel counter that had once stood between us. I really enjoyed her company, and was beginning to wonder about what would happen when we reached the end of the season?
Belinda-Jayne made a point of checking that I'd definitely be at the final home game, which (for those days) would be a rare night game. I was a ball of nerves as that day approached.... I knew what I felt, but I had no idea what to do. There was a big crowd in that night, and as I went downstairs to get our regular order for once the queues were quite long. When I got to the front, Belinda-Jayne explained that it was too busy for her to have a break tonight, but could I possibly meet her quickly after the game? Now I just had to think of some way to make dad go back to the car ahead of me, to give us some privacy?
Parramatta lost to Manly, ending our slim semi-final chances. As the crowd made its way out of the ground after the game I frantically looked around for Belinda-Jayne. finally spotting her sitting down near the gate. She was holding something in her hand, something small and white? We smiled as our eyes met and we headed towards each other. She said "Sorry about tonight, it was so busy. Here?" and she handed me something, kissed me on the cheek, and disappeared into the night.
I'd been too nervous to say anything at all. I'd just hoped that she had been feeling that same spark between us, and that her confidence had somehow transformed a way for us to keep seeing each other into the thing I now held in my hand. I nervously looked down. It was a folded over hotdog wrapper from the canteen. Inside she'd written: "In case you want to keep in touch, 686-4392, x". Perfect!
My team may have missed the semis, but that night I walked away happy, and about to try and arrange my first ever date?
(Phone numbers have been changed to protect the innocent)
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