It was the worst food Bernard had ever tasted.
“That lasagna was lovely, Helen.”
“Cannelloni, actually, but thank you anyway.”
“Of course. I don’t know my pasta from my elbow.”
“An easy mistake to make. In fact, did you know that there’s a pasta shaped like elbows; gomiti, it’s called.”
Bernard felt a yawn coming on but managed to suppress it.
“I didn’t, no. How interesting.”
He gazed into Helen’s mud-coloured eyes through the flickering candlelight. She was his thirteenth date since he joined LuvStruck. On average, his relationships through the on-line site had lasted a date and a half. This was his second with Helen, so above average, then.
Helen excused herself and took the plates to the kitchen. Bernard cast his eyes around her living room, which doubled as a dining room. There were lots of photos … of her parents, and a dog. He wondered whose dog it might be as it wasn’t in the house, so not Helen’s, presumably.
“Whose dog is that in the photos?” Bernard asked her when she returned, bearing the dessert.
“Mine. He … he died. Last month. I do miss him. Which is why I started … you know.”
“Ah.” Bernard got the idea. He himself had signed up to LuvStruck when his cat died, two months earlier.
“What was his name?”
He felt strangely proud that he might be filling a gap left by a pet dog with his name.
Helen laughed a funny little laugh that sounded like water going down a plughole.
“So what have we got for dessert?”
“Well, just to continue with the Italian theme, it’s tiramisú … which, I don’t know if you know, means ‘pick-me-up’.”
Bernard tried a small spoonful; it was certainly the worst dessert he’d ever tasted. ‘Throw-me-up’ more like, he thought.
“It’s delicious, Helen.”
“Why, thank you again.” Helen’s ruddy complexion turned a darker shade still with the sudden blush.
“Another interesting fact about tiramisú,” she continued. “Apparently, in olden times, courtesans in Venice would eat it before their gentlemen visited because they thought it would give them the energy to …”
Helen paused for effect and fixed Bernard with a look she hoped was sensual.
“… make love all night.”
A bit of tiramisú that Bernard had been moving around his mouth while contemplating what to do with it found its way into his windpipe and within seconds he was coughing and spluttering and fighting for breath. Helen, a big woman, wasted no time. She jumped up and skipped round behind Bernard, lifting him bodily out of the chair and applying the classic Heimlich manoeuvre. The offending bit of tiramisú flew out of Bernard’s mouth and he took an enormous, life-saving breath.
As he stood gasping lungfuls of air he realised that Helen hadn’t relinquished her grip on him.
“Thanks, Helen. It’s okay now.”
If anything, Helen gripped him tighter. Bernard let out a little yelp as she reached round to clamp a hand on his groin.
Helen picked Bernard up and carried him to the bedroom. He’d never got this far with the previous dozen women and was very excited. He took no time at all to rip his clothes off, revealing a bony body and a gardener’s sun-tan.
Helen sat on the side of the bed and started to remove her own clothes as quickly as she could, but she was only half-way to nakedness when she felt something in her ear. It was Bernard’s tongue, and it was as much foreplay as he was prepared to provide.
Two minutes later it was over, with Bernard lying on his back, a wide smile beaming out satisfaction. Helen lay beside him, staring at the ceiling, shell-shocked. She’d only ever been to bed with two other men, but this was by far the worst sexual experience she’d ever had.
“So how was that, then?” Bernard was keen to know.
Bernard decided there and then that despite the cooking and the complexion, Helen would be a keeper. Helen, turning to look at her lover — his balding hair, thin frame, varicose veins, socks still on — realised that she was in no position to be fussy either and decided likewise.