Freddie holds the door open for me; I go out, avoiding his eye.
‘So,’ he says, as we cross the car park, ‘what was that text about?’
‘What text?’ I say.
‘The one you sent the other night.’
‘Well, like I said, I was confused! I got the impression, from your behaviour….’
He looks surprised. ‘I don’t know why!’
I laugh. ‘Are you seriously telling me you had no idea?’
I give him a look.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘I suspected that you might – the other night…’
‘But you didn’t…?’
‘But because I didn’t… I just pretended it wasn’t – you weren’t–.’
I come to a standstill. ‘But wait a sec! I was only – I mean, because I thought – from your behaviour–.’
‘What did I do?!’ he says.
‘You want a list?!’
This is surreal.
‘OK – a list….’
I wait whilst he unlocks his bike. Straightening up, he says with a smile:
‘You took my arm the other night.’
‘And then you offered me your arm!’ I say.
He laughs. ‘But I offer my arm to anyone! My friends, my sister, my mother…’
‘Well, you shouldn’t! And – well – I didn’t know that!’
Neither of us speaks for a moment.
‘What else?’ he says.
I laugh. ‘This is weird! OK err… eye contact?’
He looks at me blankly. I can see I’m going to have to come up with something more concrete.
‘OK, the other night, you insisted I bus back with you. What was up with that?’
He looks puzzled. ‘When?’
‘Tuesday. You were taking the bus, and you insisted I take it with you, even though it made more sense for me to take the tube.’
He frowns. ‘But I took the tube with you, and I had my bike.’
‘No, not that night, the other – oh, never mind. Also, Beatrice noticed.’
He rolls his eyes. ‘Argh there’s always a third party involved.’
‘Not just Beatrice – others. It was obvious! From your behaviour. Like on Valentine’s Day….’
‘What about it?’
I sigh. ‘Never mind.’
‘I still don’t understand,’ he says. ‘When did I take the bus back with you?’
‘No, you didn’t – you tried to persuade me to, but I took the tube with Beatrice. I don’t know, perhaps you’d had a bit to drink or something…’
‘No, because I’d given up alcohol for Lent.’
‘No, Lent hadn’t started…’
Shades of beige t-shirt here.
’… I remember you saying that was the last night you could drink.’
‘But anyway, it was more just a general impression I got from your behaviour.’ I give him a nudge. ‘You should be more careful!’
He looks sheepish.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘I suppose I thought, that because we’ve known each other as long as we have, I could behave that way and you wouldn’t think it meant anything.’
‘But does having known someone a long time necessarily mean nothing can happen?’
‘Yes – in this instance.’
I suddenly feel very sad.
‘Well, I guess – I didn’t realise that,’ I say quietly.
We walk on in silence for a minute or two. When conversation resumes, it’s about the weather.
We’re approaching my stop.
‘You don’t have to walk me,’ I say. ‘It’s the wrong direction for you – seriously.’
‘No I will.’ He laughs. ‘So long as you don’t read anything into it!’
I laugh, in spite of myself.
As we cross the road, he says, ‘I remember now, when I insisted you take the bus.’
‘So,’ I say, ‘why did you insist?’
He thinks for a moment.
‘I don’t know.’
The bus comes into view.
‘I’ll probably be home before you!’ he says, preparing to mount his bike.
‘Probably,’ I say, ‘since I’ll walk the last bit.’
It’s a clear night.