And then I hung up.
When Mark and I first met, even though he was still in love with Shannon, I spent an hour getting ready every time we planned to meet at the bar. He would show up unshaven in cargo trousers and an old Joy Division T-shirt, and I would come in as if I’d merely been walking around perfectly made up and coiffed, comfortably wearing this peacock-green silk skirt and red cashmere cardigan all day, thank you very much.
The bait-and-switch happened the first night he stayed over and woke up to me as I really was: purple hair a perfect nest for birds and face free of makeup. And it was Mark’s shining moment: he looked at me, eyes roaming my face, and said quietly, “There she is.”
Mark may have done a lot of things wrong, but one thing he always got right was making me feel beautiful just as I was. And as I got ready for dinner—by simply pulling on a pair of trousers, some old trainers, and a blue jumper—it occurred to me that was one area where Jensen failed me. He always seemed to weather Ruby’s references to my oft-dyed hair with a patient smile or a nervous laugh. He didn’t seem to love the volume of my clothes, or of me, for that matter.
It hurt, actually, to feel this first tiny splinter in my adoration of him. It hurt to not hear from him, to wonder if perhaps Becky did, to not get a single text or email or call after all of it. But I still wasn’t ready to let him go entirely, because I felt that buried in my feelings for Jensen were also feelings of an idealized version of myself that I wanted to know. One who found something she loved to do during the day, who found people she loved to be near at night, who chased ambition and adventure.
But looking at myself now, I wanted to remember this Pippa, too: the one who wore what she bloody well pleased, and didn’t get dressed for a man, or a friend, or anyone but herself each morning.
I glanced at the clock. I had time to ring Tami and get in before dinner.
It was the first thing he noticed, and his expression fell slightly, nostalgia plain on his face.
I came closer, letting him hug me. “It was time.”
He reached for a strand, letting his fingers run down it. “It makes me miss you.”
“It makes me want to dance,” I countered, stepping out of his reach.
“We could have gone to Rooney’s instead,” he suggested, thinking I meant dance in the literal sense.
But he didn’t understand. I meant that dyeing my hair made me happy, brought me back to myself. I nodded to the hostess when she asked if there were two of us dining tonight. We followed her to a small table in the back, against the wall. “I don’t want to go to Rooney’s, or the Squeaky Wheel, or any of those old places.”
“You’re so angry at me,” he said quietly, turning the menu over in his hands to read the cocktail list.
“I’m not angry anymore,” I assured him. “But I don’t want to do a tour of our past tonight, either.”
He stared at me, as if studying, and then nodded a little. “You’re different.”
Shaking his head, he leaned in closer. “You are. You don’t like it here anymore.”
Mark always had been astute when he wanted to be. “I stepped into Trinity’s old job when she left R-C,” I reminded him, “and you rolled into my bed when you and Shannon split up.” Ignoring his pained wince, I said, “And it occurred to me: the two most important aspects of my life were hand-me-downs.”
“It wasn’t like that with us, Pipps,” Mark insisted.
I shook my head. “When we were just friends, I’m sure it felt good to you that I was so eager for anything you’d give me. You needed attention, and I just wanted you. But something happens when you betray someone who’ll give you anything. It sours their generosity. And you should have known that better than anyone, so I think you really wanted out of our relationship, you were just too cowardly to say it.”
For once, he didn’t immediately argue with me. He stared at his water glass, tracing the path of a drop of condensation as it slid down from the rim. “It wasn’t that organized. I met her at—”
“I don’t want to know a thing about her,” I reminded him sharply, interrupting. “I don’t bloody care.”
Mark looked up at me, surprised.
“She wasn’t the problem,” I told him. “You were. I don’t need someone else to blame for what you did, and you don’t get to pass that off, either.”
He smiled at me. “There she is.”
“Don’t say that,” I growled, and his smile disappeared. “This isn’t a sentimental trip down memory lane. You hurt me. You brought another woman into my flat, into our bed.”
Clearly Mark needed to think on what to say next, because despite having been here more than once, he picked up his menu and scanned it before staring at the same spot for a full minute.
I looked to my own menu, decided to order the steak and chips, and put it back down. The waitress came to our table, took our order, and left us in continued silence.
From the set of his jaw, I assumed Mark was going to tell me I was wrong, and that he didn’t sabotage our relationship intentionally, and that he was a dedicated lover who simply made an innocent mistake. But when he did speak, it wasn’t at all what I’d predicted: “Maybe you’re right. I don’t know.”