We met in the café I go to on Saturday afternoons to write, the one with the loo right by the kitchen where you can hear if the occupant is doing a number one or a number two.
I felt him watching me as soon as I walked in, swooshing past in my ridiculous coat that got caught on a chair at his table.
It was sunny outside for the first time in ages, and on the short walk around the corner from my house I’d gotten a bit purple and sweaty. The rest of London had known to switch to Spring jackets, like there’d been a conference that I’d missed.
He was wearing a cranberry-coloured shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. I only looked at his forearms, mentally noting the peek of tattooed script near his elbow, because I was too embarrassed to look up when I mumbled sorry for causing a ruckus. He had the kind of masculine, nimble hands that could pin a girl up to the wall and make her pray to Jesus.
I’m all words until the boy is beautiful, and oh my Beyoncé this fella was an angel. Finally sneaking a peek at him from the counter I remember thinking wow. He was working at his laptop, notebook at his side. Dark, bearded, glasses. He looked ready for his Instagram, Mr DeMille.
I’d give him my close-up, I thought, until he looked up and I had to adjust my gaze to pretend I was actually looking for somebody out of the window.
He wasn’t subtle about looking at me. He knew right from the off that to catch my attention he’d to play me at my own game, peacock to peacock. When the Russian waitress said, ‘I got berries, with the water and some ginger. I make for you!’ I simply said, ‘Okay.’ I’d wanted mint tea, but my cheeks were flushing and I felt really… exposed. I just wanted to sit down.
I picked my favourite table by the door, the one where the sun warms my back, and pulled out my laptop. I caught his eye as I arranged my things. He smiled.
We left the café together three hours later. All it took was, ‘Hello.’ ‘Hi,’ he’d said back. And that was that.
I stood ground with myself when the coffee shop turned into the pub that turned into a Vietnamese on Kingsland Road and nine hours turned into ten that turned into, ‘I want to invite you back, but I won’t.’ I was terrified of him.
He’d read To Kill a Mockingbird and understood what I meant about Revolutionary Road and how the film was brilliant, but totally not a fair representation of the book. He put on silly voices when he told stories about his family, and told me I was charming before he told me I was beautiful.
‘You won’t believe what happened to me today,’ I said to my brother and his fella when I finally got home at 1 a.m. ‘There was this boy…’
He kissed me the next morning, when we met for breakfast. He said, ‘I should’ve done it last night, but I wanted to wait until it was light so I knew you were real.’ We held hands and than ate eggs (me) and bacon (him) and he told me he’d tried to be vegetarian once but his dad used to make salted beef sandwiches every Monday supper and after he passed he liked to continue the tradition.
He came back to the flat with me, and bellies full we spooned on the sofa and took a nap. We only woke up when my brother and his fella got home, and it was awkward and embarrassing but he made easy conversation and we all made a salad. At bedtime he came upstairs with me, because of course. Of course.
Our first fight was about how to make proper béchamel sauce. He told me it was better if I heated the milk before adding it to the flour and butter, and I said it was a waste of time. He told me I needed to learn to be more patient, to go slower with the things that mattered, and I thought he was telling me we were too much too fast and yelled that I’d make the béchamel how I’d always made the fucking béchamel because I’d been making my own goddamn béchamel sauce for ten years before he came along. Then I threw the pan in the sink and turned on the tap and he told me he loved me.
Well. I’m sure that’s how it would’ve played out, anyway, IF I’D HAD BALLS ENOUGH TO EVEN LOOK HIM IN THE EYE THAT SATURDAY AFTERNOON.
I think I’m going to be single forever.
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