All I can think about is the scene in When Harry Met Sally. Meg Ryan is sobbing onto Harry’s shoulder, wailing about the fact that when Joe said he didn’t want to get married, what he actually meant was ‘he didn’t want to marry me!’
FFS gives my hand a squeeze. ‘What are you thinking?’
What to say? That this is all bullshit? That I’ve seen the films, hell, I’ve even experienced it in real life. The last man to use this line was Max. The circumstances might be different, but the bottom line’s the same.
FFS is looking at me steadily. I shrug. ‘Well, that’s that.’
He hugs my legs to him, rests his head against them. I run my fingers through his hair. Not big hair. I want to kiss him, take him to my bed, but I know that come the morning it will feel so much worse.
He draws me towards him, cradles me. We kiss.
I draw back. ‘I’m just going to the bathroom.’
When I get back, I don’t rejoin him on the sofa, but remain standing.
He looks up at me. ‘Do you want me to go?’
I perch on the arm of the sofa, rest my chin on my hand, and stare ahead at the sea of used wine glasses. Some are half-full, most are empty. I can feel him looking at me, and turn to meet his gaze, force a smile. He pulls me onto his lap, caresses my neck.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say, laughing. ‘I’ve got an excellent track record of crying on my birthday, and I have no intention of breaking with tradition!’
He looks surprised and laughs, hugs me tighter. It’s a strange thing, to be comforted by the one who is the cause of your distress. I know I won’t let him stay, but still, I don’t want to be alone; because I know that, once he leaves, I’ll cry, and I don’t want that.
His hands are wandering. I lie there, passive. I want it to mean something, I always do. This time last year, I was in Milonga’s bed. I woke the next day and went on my way. The hot spring sun beat down upon the pavement as I walked to the station in my ballgown. I’d heard the term ‘the walk of shame’ but never for a moment thought that this was it. I stopped at a supermarket for a bag of apples and a bottle of water. On the train, children stared as I stared out of the window, feeling the first twinges of embarrassment.
A year on, I see more clearly. I know that, come the morning, he will have everything he wants, and I will have nothing. I will feel empty and alone and used. His hand strays to my thigh. I think back to how he was earlier in the evening, so cold, so uncaring, and twist myself out of his embrace.
‘Shall I look up night buses?’ I say, rising from the sofa.
There’s a pause.
‘If you don’t mind.’
I retrieve my computer from where it’s lying on the floor, and run the necessary search.
In the hallway, he dons his coat. We hug. His arms are still around me, his face set in a frown. I want him to un-say everything, to change his mind.
‘I really like spending time with you,’ he says, ‘and I’d like to stay…’
I smile. ‘I like spending time with you too. Like you said, we have a good laugh…’
What he’d actually said was ‘we do laugh a lot’, which made me feel really sad. We’re always laughing, and it’s what I’ll miss most about him.
‘… but,’ I go on, ‘you’ve said you only want something light and ‘detached’, something on your terms…’
He shrugs and doesn’t deny it.
‘… and, well, it’s not that I want something serious…’
Would it be such a crime if I did?
‘… it’s just that – I’d like – a bit more contact! I don’t want to have to act ‘detached’!’
‘And so, at the moment it’s a good thing that we have a laugh together, but eventually it will become a problem…’
He nods. ‘Yeah.’
‘So,’ I say, sighing, ‘for the above reasons…’