Throughout his life, Martin had been desperately disappointed in matters of the heart; he’d had a number of serious relationships and had been chewed up and spat out of all of them. In self-defence he’d chosen a solitude that had lasted years, a blissful time of total independence.
But as he reached middle age, the spectre of a lonely end-of-life reared its head and he came to realise that perhaps he needed someone. Because he worked from home and had no social life to speak of, it was difficult for him to meet women in the conventional way, so he did the fashionable thing and dipped his toe into the on-line dating scene. In recent weeks he’d had a number of quite … unusual experiences.
There was the woman who’d turned up for their date in a lace teddy, hot-pants and thigh-length, patent-leather boots. This might have been fine for later on, if it had ever got that far, but Sunday lunch at a local pub was … well. She’d turned heads, that’s for sure, though it was a pub he felt he could not go back to — at least not for a good while.
Another was built like a rugby player. This was not a deal-breaker in itself, but her profile photo on the app had been more than a little flattering, and Martin got quite a shock when she arrived at the restaurant. They had dinner, talked a lot — she much more than him — and laughed some. Then, after what had been an otherwise perfectly pleasant evening, he invited her back to his for coffee. That’s when she pinned him up against his car.
“What? You think I’m easy?!” she roared into his face. “You think I’m a slag?! Well, you’ve got another think coming, fella!”
He’d escaped with just a rumpled shirt collar.
But Sophie … well, Sophie was different. She was an author, slightly Bohemian in style, and on their first dates he’d found her to be very interesting, with a nicely dry sense of humour. He fell for her almost from the word “go” — her beautiful eyes and hands helped — and to Martin’s great relief, she hadn’t threatened him physically when he invited her to his place for dinner one Sunday.
The evening started off badly, though. She was very late, something Martin hated with a vengeance, and she didn’t call him to give him an ETA, either. When she did arrive, almost an hour after the agreed time, there was no apology. It took Martin all his self-control to refrain from saying something scathing. They had drinks and sat listening to some Frank Sinatra, who, they’d discovered, was a mutual favourite. But Martin was still seething and the atmosphere was decidedly chilly. Then at one point, Sophie pointed at the wall above the fireplace.
“Your clock’s wrong,” she said.
Martin looked up at the old clock and at his watch.
“Nope,” he retorted dismissively; his annoyance was still bubbling away.
“It is, though,” Sophie insisted. “Hey, you … you forgot to put it back last night, didn’t you?”
The truth hit Martin like a train. Daylight Saving Time had caught him out on other occasions, but he felt especially stupid now. All the same, it was a great relief, and he told Sophie of the anger he’d mistakenly felt, the ice melting instantly with the confession.
And so here they were at the table. He’d prepared his best dish: a seafood risotto. It had come out well, and Sophie appeared to enjoy it. Now they were sitting in the candlelight — Martin was a romantic at heart — finishing off their wine.
Martin drank up the little he had left in his glass during a lull in the conversation, one which he was pleased to note was not at all uncomfortable. He gazed across the table into those lovely green eyes, trying to fathom out Sophie’s feelings. Absentmindedly, he began to run his finger around the rim of his glass; a mellow hum reverberated through the room. He stopped, and as the silence returned, he plucked up courage to say:
“You know, I really like you, Sophie.”
He wasn’t a very confident person at the best of times, and he knew what he’d said wasn’t quite a Shakespearean sonnet, but he was glad he’d got it out there anyway.
Sophie regarded Martin for a long moment and then appeared to make up her mind about something. She held her glass up to the candlelight, checked how much was there and took a tiny sip.
“Do that again,” she said, nodding at his glass.
Martin frowned, unsure of her intentions, but followed her instructions. The rich, mellow hum filled the room for a second time. Then something rather wondrous happened.
Sophie began to do the same. The pitch of the sound she produced was slightly lower than Martin’s because of the wine in her glass. But the two tones together … well, Martin had never heard anything so sublime.
They continued to make this unique music together for what seemed to Martin like an eternity. Then, almost magically, they stopped at precisely the same moment. The harmony hung in the air for a few moments, followed by a quiet that had a special, crystalline quality for coming after such an exquisite sound.
It was Sophie who broke the silence this time.
“You know something, Martin?” she said, beaming now. “I really like you, too.”