“Remember our first time here?” Louise asks, lifting the glass of wine to her dark red lips.
Timothy looks around the dim, practically deserted pub.
“How could I forget? Same old furniture, I see.”
“Good memory.” Louise licks her lips and places the glass back on the table. She looks around the pub too, and when she returns her eyes to meet Timothy’s, she sees that he’s been staring at her. She drops her gaze to the table and begins to play with a little patch of wine that spilled from her glass when Timothy brought it from the bar.
“So what’s this all about, Lou?” Timothy’s even tone betrays the fact that he knows what it’s all about.
Using her finger, Louise draws a little triangle with the wine. Whatever she’s going to say is reluctant to come out.
“I had to borrow a skirt from my flat-mate, remember?”
“I remember. Green, with red polka-dots. Horrible.”
“Ha! You said you liked it at the time, but I think you just wanted to get into my knickers!”
Louise laughs, but she sees no mirth on Timothy’s face.
“I made you wait three dates,” she adds.
“Straight out of the manual, that was. Well … straight out of Deirdre.”
“I hated her almost as much as I hated that skirt.” Timothy’s top lip curls.
“But it kept you interested, didn’t it? It worked.”
“You’ve always been a control freak, Lou. You were merely starting as you meant to go on.”
Louise frowns and pouts.
“I’m not sure that’s fair.”
“No? So, then. Tell me what this is all about.”
Louise brings her glass to her lips again. Timothy notices the red lipstick on the rim. The delay in the response makes it sound fabricated.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You call me at the office, on a Tuesday, invite me to come here straight after work, when it’s neither your birthday nor mine, nor Valentine’s Day, nor … the anniversary of that first night—yes, I remember the date. Do you?”
Louise forces a twisted smile onto her mouth.
“Of course I do.”
She takes another sip of her wine, almost furtively. Timothy sits back in the wooden chair and glares at her.
“I won’t embarrass you by testing you on that.”
Louise says nothing, effectively incriminating herself.
“So, for the third time—what’s it all about?”
Louise fidgets on the red-plastic bench-seat, making a sound like a fart.
“That wasn’t me!”
She says it jokingly, hoping to lighten the mood, but Timothy’s face remains stony. He takes a first sip of his beer, peering dispassionately over the rim of the glass at the discomfort of his companion. She takes a deep breath: the news is ready to emerge.
“I wanted us to come here because I thought it might make it easier.”
Timothy’s demeanour changes not one iota.
“I thought it might make what I’m going to say easier.”
The news is edging its way out, like a birth.
“I know how much I mean to you.”
If Louise were more aware and not focussing so much on herself and on carefully producing what she’s rehearsed, she might notice a little flicker in one of Timothy’s eyelids.
“And the last thing I wanted … I want to do is break your heart.”
The flicker now passes to Timothy’s lips, but Louise misses that too.
“So, well, I don’t think I need to go on, do I? It’s … it’s over, Tim. And I’m so, so sorry if I have broken your heart.”
The repetition of the “so” has the opposite effect to that intended.
With the news finally out, Louise is able to pay attention to Timothy; her eyes narrow. He’s nodding gently. He reaches for his beer and takes a large swig, almost finishing it in one.
“Did I ever tell you about Fiona Berry?” he says at last.
He doesn’t wait for a response.
“Fiona Berry was beautiful, and I was desperately in love with her.”
Timothy looks into the nearby fireplace, the red flames reflected in his pupils.
“Fiona Berry …”
Louise opens her mouth to say something but Timothy continues, cutting her off before the words come.
“I was so in love that one day I decided to declare it to her, but I wasn’t sure how to. Then I had an idea. I went into the local shop and bought a tube of Love Hearts. You remember them, don’t you? Round sweets, with hearts on them, and written in the hearts were these little messages of love.”
Louise goes to say something again, but Timothy is somewhere else.
“I took all the sweets out of the tube to find the one I wanted. It was a white one with red letters. I rolled it up in a tissue and went to find her. She was with a couple of friends, but that didn’t put me off. My heart was beating like crazy as I went up to her. I couldn’t speak, I was so in love. I just handed her the Love Heart. I remember her look—she was curious; I’d never even spoken to her before. So I stood there, knees like jelly, as she unfolded the tissue and took out the Love Heart and read it.”
Timothy shifts his gaze from the fire to Louise. She sees that his eyes are shining.
“She started laughing and showed the Love Heart to her friends. One of them read it out in this silly, romantic voice: BE MINE! They all started laughing then—really hysterical laughter. Fiona dropped the Love Heart to the ground and stepped on it.”
Louise has her mouth open again, but not to say anything this time; she’s never seen Timothy so impassioned, about anything. He clears his throat.
“I was ten.”
He stands up and begins to leave but comes back, picks up his beer and finishes it off. He leans down, bringing his face close to Louise’s.
“Now that, Lou … that broke my heart.”
Timothy smiles now, turns and leaves Louise at the table, her face slowly reddening.