“I know,” he said, voice pained. “But here’s the thing: You were the one who was really there for me when Shannon left. You listened, and you made me laugh, and you got me drunk and sang with me and . . . you were my best friend. I wanted it to be love.”
I leaned back in my chair, pressing my hands together beneath the table so I wouldn’t reach across and slap him. “I wanted it to be love, too. I thought it was, actually. But it wasn’t. It was infatuation. You’re gorgeous, and charming, and it didn’t take you forever to figure out how to make it good for me in bed. These days, that combination is a ruddy unicorn.” He smiled at this, and I allowed a small one in return. “But I promise, I’m not heartbroken.”
He went still.
“I’m not,” I repeated. “I was angry, and humiliated, and wanted to cut your balls off and have them bronzed, but then I went away, and I met someone, and . . . I met myself, maybe, too.”
I nipped this one in the bud. “You don’t get to ask about it.”
Laughing, he said, “Okay. Even if it will drive me mad?”
I ignored this, leaning forward, elbows on the table. “He’d been married before, to a woman he met in college and had dated for years. Four months after their wedding, she left. She told him it didn’t feel right, she didn’t want to be married to him.”
“Don’t act so surprised. That could have been us.” Pushing away from the table, I leaned back in my seat. “Why are people so cowardly? Why does it take them so long to figure out their own hearts?”
“You and I were together for a year, and you just admitted you didn’t love me, either,” Mark reminded me.
I looked back up at him. “That’s true. But I never would have hurt you while trying to figure it out. I would have talked it out.”
He looked up, thanking the waitress when she put his scotch and soda on the table in front of him.
Mark sipped his drink and noticed I hadn’t ordered one. “Nothing for you, then?” he asked, tipping his glass to me.
It was our routine: sit down, order a drink, order some food, order another drink. Maybe another. I had nothing against hard alcohol, but I wanted the warm flush of wine, the cold breeze outside, and Jensen’s long arm around my shoulders as we watched the sunset over a vineyard.
Or anywhere, really.
If I drank tonight, I wouldn’t stop at one, and I would go home soggy and depressed and probably call him and tell him I missed him.
And then what?
He might not even be surprised for me to do something so impulsive.
But being the straightforward man he was, he would remind me it had only been a fling.
But also being the kind soul he was, he would quietly promise to call me the next time he was in town.
And I would laugh with forced lightness, and assure him that I’m in my cups, and being nostalgic, and really have so many options here it’s fine, fine, fine.
“Not tonight,” I said, smiling over at Mark. “I feel the need to sweep away some old habits.”
But back home—even sober—it seemed the phone in the kitchen was trying to flirt with me.
Growing and shrinking, it was a pale blue beacon attached to the wall.
Call him, it said.
Do it. You know you want to.
And it would be good to hear his voice, wouldn’t it?
It would have, but instead I left the kitchen, walking into my bedroom, where I could tuck my mobile into a drawer and put on my PJs and pretend that there wasn’t a gnawing ache in me, wanting to hear his voice, wanting there to be a hint of thrill to hear from me.
He’d seemed happy to see me on the sidewalk outside his house, hadn’t he? While I’d stammered and flailed, he’d calmly listened and then bent down and put his mouth against mine.
Even the memory of what followed that night had me reaching up, touching my lips.
In some ways, I wanted to punch myself for not noticing more. Little things, like how he held his fork, and whether I’d ever seen his handwriting at any point on the trip. I knew he took his coffee black, but did he hold his mug by the handle, or around the curve of it, warming his hand?
“Fucking hell, Pippa.” I growled, throwing my jumper into the laundry bin. “Stop.”
It would be so easy if I knew these thoughts of Jensen were some sort of pep talk, a way to lure myself out of London and keep my bravery lifted. But it wasn’t that. I wasn’t afraid of leaving London, and actually I wasn’t keen on Jensen knowing I was moving to Boston if we weren’t in touch otherwise. It was that . . . well, I really fancied him.
I wanted him to fancy me.
I wanted him to call me.
Of course, right then, the landline scared the shit out of me, ringing brightly on my bedside table. No one but the Mums and irritating solicitors ever called me on this line, and so I answered it—assuring Lele that dinner with Mark had been predictably bland and no, I was not currently lying in bed with him.
But then the phone was right there, in my hand, looking all seductive again.
I dug in my purse for the papers from Hanna, unfolding them and smoothing a finger along his name in ink as I sat on the edge of my bed.
A million times in the history of the world, a girl had called a boy. A million times, too, she had felt nervous like this—like she might puke, really—and had debated for ten minutes over whether it was a good idea.
It was just past eleven here, which meant he might be home, or at least the office would be empty . . . it’s possible he would see the London number calling, hope it was me, and answer.