Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7
Thursday lunchtime, and I’m sitting over a latte and a book. I should be eating, but since Daniel left, I’ve kind of given that up, except when my stomach screams at me that it needs filling. The coffee shop is crowded, of course; it always is at this time of day.
“Do you mind if I share your table?” says a woman’s voice beside me, “Though I must warn you that if you say ‘yes’, I’ll almost certainly talk your ear off.”
I look up at the speaker. She’s beautiful. Large eyes that you can see instantly are blue, creamy skin, and a long fall of shiny hair, the brown-red of mahogany. She’s slim without being thin, and makes black jeans and a white tee-shirt look like designer-wear. Just what I need to make me feel frumpier, dumpier and plainer than ever.
I’m about to say no, and she can see it. She looks ridiculously disappointed, as she turns, casting her eyes about for another seat. I’m not sure why but I say, ungraciously, “Go on then, sit down.”
She talks to me, as she threatened, telling me about herself. She’s Rachel, she’s in marketing, she’s in town for a job interview and she’s got the job. Her voice is a light, unremarkable soprano and it seems to float over the small talk. I’ve told her my name, but nothing more. After a while she looks at her watch and says, “Your lunch hour must be almost over.”
It’s my chance to escape, and I blow it.
“No,” I say, “I’ve got the afternoon off. And tomorrow. I’ve done a lot of overtime recently, they told me to take a break, extend the weekend.”
She smiles. She really is beautiful. I hate her.
I find myself getting angry. “Why did you choose to sit with me?” I demand.
“You looked sad,” she says.
“And you thought you’d play fairy-godmother and cheer me up? How nice of you.” I’m shocked at the words, and the tone, even as I speak them. I wasn’t always such a bitch.
“No,” she says, “sad people have stories, and sometimes they even tell them. Happy people are too busy being happy to tell their stories most of the time. I’m on my own here, and I wanted someone to talk to.”
I’m thrown completely. That’s not what I expected her to say, not at all. And I find myself telling her everything. About leaving England and moving to the other side of the world when I married a Kiwi. About realising within six months of the wedding that I’d made a hideous mistake and that neither of us were the people I’d thought we were. About the rows that went on for more than a year before he fell in love with someone else and left me for her. About the fact that apart from the blow to my self-esteem, I was relieved he’d gone. About having no friends that weren’t his friends. I go on, and on and on.
At some point, she buys us both more coffee. She listens and seems genuinely interested. I grow hoarse from talking, I haven’t talked like this in nine months, not since Daniel finally slammed the door and got in the truck that held his half of our life together.
I notice that the coffee shop is empty, and the guy behind the counter is fidgeting like he wants to leave.
“I guess we should go,” Rachel says. Then she looks at me and asks, “Look Bel, do you know anywhere cheap I can stay in town? I was going to drive home today, but the interview went on longer than I expected, it’s an eight hour drive back to Wellington, and I can’t afford to stay at the Centra. I was only there last night because it was part of my interview expenses.”
“There’s a couple of decent backpackers,” I reply, “although you’d need a sleeping bag,” She shakes her head. “Or…”
“I’ve got a spare room. You can have that if you like.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t! I mean…”
“Look, if you want it, it’s not a problem. Where’s your car?”
And that’s that. We fetch her car from the Centra carpark and drive home. We stow her bag in the front room, and I’m about to make dinner, when I realise that I have nothing in the house other than a couple of bottles of wine in the fridge, some milk and a box of cereal. There isn’t even sugar. She shrugs it off, and eats cereal. I don’t eat.
We sit, later, later, still talking, and drinking the wine. Somewhere along the way we get to laughing, something I haven’t done in far too long. We’ve just opened the second bottle when she drops her bombshell. “You know when you asked me why I sat with you earlier?’
“I wasn’t completely honest with you.”
I look at her blankly. She clears her throat.
“I’m gay, Bel. I fancied you. I mean, I fancy you.”
I laugh, and then I see that she isn’t joking. “I’m not gay, ” I say flatly. She nods. She knows. Then, uncomprehendingly, I wave a vague hand over my body. “Why would you,” I ask, incredulous, “fancy someone like me?”
“I don’t know,” she answers seriously. “Besides anything else, I don’t make a habit of going for straight women. I certainly don’t make a habit of telling them. I like your face. It’s a kind, understanding face. I think that answers both questions really, why I was attracted to you, and why I had the courage to tell you so.”
I sit silently. I don’t know how long for, I just sit, looking at her. She shifts uncomfortably on her chair. When I finally break the silence, the words seem to come from nowhere.
“Would you like to kiss me?”
She looks at me sharply, hurt almost. “Don’t play with me, Bel. That isn’t funny.”
“No, really, I mean it. You’ve been nice to me, I’ve had the best day I’ve had in a long time, and an evening where I haven’t been lonely. I’d offer a man who did the same a kiss, even if I didn’t fancy him, if he wanted it. It seems the least I can do. If you want to kiss me, you are welcome to. ”
Nothing… the silence stretches. I shrug.
“You were just saying it to make me feel better, weren’t you,” I ask, “knowing you wouldn’t have to deliver on it?” It’s my turn to be hurt, though I can’t understand why.
She gets up from her chair and walks over to mine. She kneels in front of me and puts her hands on my shoulders. She looks me right in the eyes.
“I’d like to kiss you, Bel. I’d like it very much.”
And she does.
She touches her lips to mine, so gently, her mouth parted, but not wide. She waits for me to pull away, and I’m waiting too, expecting to be repulsed, but I’m not. Anything but. Her mouth tastes of wine and she smells of flowers. I lean towards her, not away, and I feel her stiffen just a little. One of her hands lifts from my shoulder, and laces into my hair, holding me, but it is my tongue that finds its way into her mouth, questing for, and finding, hers. I watch her eyes flutter closed and then I close mine too. All I’m aware of, at this minute is that there is somebody else here with me, kissing me and wanting me. And this kiss is very, very sweet and tender. I almost don’t want it to end, ever.
It does, of course. She moves away, and sighs.
I look at her again, so beautiful, and say, “Would you…”
She puts a finger to my lips and shushes me, shaking her head.
“I’d love to, but you’re a little drunk, and very tired, and lonely. It would kill me if you woke up tomorrow hating me. I think we should just go to our separate beds and sleep.”
We stand and go to our rooms and she says, “Goodnight, and thank you.”
I lay there in the darkness, thinking about the kiss, how it felt, how it made me feel. I’m aware of my body, more than peripherally, in a way I haven’t been since… well, since long before Daniel left. It feels good, but Rachel is right, I’m drunk and in no fit state to make life-changing decisions. I smile a little – there’s one thing, I think, that I am in a fit state to do. I hear little creaking noises from the bed on the other side of the wall that indicate I’m not alone in seeking relief. In the end I sleep.
And I wake shortly after dawn, and get up. I feel alive again, finally, and I walk quietly to the spare room. The door is ajar, and I push it open and go in. Rachel looks up at me, sleepily, blinking a little, and I say the words I’ve rehearsed all the way. “I’m not drunk anymore, and I’m not tired, but I’m still lonely. May I join you?”
Her smile is dazzling, as she replies, “Yes, please.”
I shut the door as I go to her.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7