‘I hate this track,’ he says.
I smile. ‘I never asked, how was your holiday?’
We chat about his recent trip. The song comes to an end.
‘Errr Ben, can I ask – no… errr….’
His expression is one of polite enquiry. I look over at Matthew. He’s helping one of his more worse-for-wear colleagues up from the floor. It’s now or never.
‘… what’s the deal with Matthew?’
Ben frowns. ‘Well… we work in the same department?’
‘Nah nah nah,’ I say, laughing. ‘I know what he does, and that’s not what I meant.’
He permits himself a small smile.
‘Well, so far as I know,’ he pauses, as if to allow me one final moment of blissful ignorance, and innocence, ‘he has a girlfriend.’
‘OK!’ I stare across the room for a few seconds. Not a convincing impression of someone who doesn’t give a shit.
Ben looks sympathetic. ‘But I don’t know if he’ll stay with her!’
‘Sorry,’ he says.
‘No, it’s fine, I thought – I mean – I thought it might be – I’d heard – something a mutual friend said….’ I break off. ‘Well, I think I’m going to go,’ I say, gesturing towards the exit.
‘What – on your own?’
Well I sure as hell aren’t going home with Matthew!
‘Oh.’ He frowns. ‘But – you shouldn’t go home alone.’
I feel a surge of affection towards Ben. A man hasn’t shown this much concern for my welfare since, well, I can’t remember when.
‘It’s fine,’ I say. ‘It’s a safe commute, and it’s not too late.’ I glance at my watch. ‘I’ll get the last tube. But, thank you.’ We hug. ‘Bye.’
I cross the room to retrieve my bag and cardigan. Matthew comes over.
‘You’re going?’ he says.
‘Yep. I’m going to get the last tube.’
‘Where are you going back to?’
I tell him.
Different directions. We joke about our respective neighborhoods. The security guard at the door clears his throat and I turn to see that the room has emptied. We slip out, retrieve our coats, and join the others on the pavement. Matthew starts to roll a cigarette. I shoulder my bag and make as if to leave.
‘Are you going?’ he says.
‘Yes.’ I glance at my watch. ‘I need to get the last tube.’
He looks disappointed, hurt even. ‘OK, well…’
‘See you soon,’ I say, hugging him, ‘and thank you for the dance!’
I turn, and walk away.