Civilised Company

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(Continued from Crowded Room)CC Image courtesy of jjMustang_79 on Flickr

I push the door open with my foot.  Its trajectory is blocked by a sewing box which usually lives downstairs.  ‘Coffee?’


‘Would you like milk?’

‘Err – if you’ve got it.’


His costume is back in place, and he looks a little uncomfortable.  I go back downstairs, add milk to both mugs, and linger there a moment in case he follows.

Flatmate’s step on the stair makes me start.  I wait until he’s passed the entrance to the kitchen, before making my way back upstairs.

Ben takes the cup.  ‘Thanks.’

I sit down on the bed.  He follows suit, perching on the edge.  This is foreign territory.  I’ve never been offered coffee at a guy’s place after staying the night.  On the contrary, it’s usually a race to leave before (God forbid) he notices my presence.  It’s why I don’t do it anymore: that feeling, like you’re nothing; and on his side, a palpable desire to erase you from his life as quickly as possible.

I don’t know if it’s Ben, or my desire to civilize the whole thing, or the fact that I want a coffee so naturally make one for my guest; but here we are, nursing mugs which are still too hot to drink, making polite, if not entirely relaxed, conversation.  It’s like a date in reverse.

We discuss our plans for the weekend; he tells me about his parents’ work; we exchange restaurant recommendations.  There’s no suggestion that we might at some point visit one of them together, which saddens me a little, but not too much.

‘Well, I’d better get going,’ he says, rising.

We both have trains to catch.


My hand on the latch, we kiss.



I close the door on his retreating back.  He didn’t ask for my number; I have no expectation that I’ll hear from him again; and I feel… OK about it.

CC Image courtesy of chichacha on Flickr

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(Continued from For Old Time’s Sake)

The taxi rank comes into view.  He turns to face me.  ‘We can’t really go back to mine…’

Thin walls, apparently.

And mine really isn’t an option.

Thin walls, thin floor, thin bed…


Twenty minutes later, he’s kissing me goodnight at a bus stop somewhere south of the river.  Ingeniously, we’d decided to take a taxi not to either of our homes, but to a ‘convenient’ midpoint.  So here we are, at three in the morning, both faced with the prospect of a night bus.

‘So,’ he says, ‘just how thin is your bed?’

I laugh.  ‘Thin.’

It might not even be a single.  Ironic, huh?  Again, we kiss.

‘You were joking when you asked that, right?’ I say.

‘Err… not entirely.’

I look down the street in the direction of home. ‘Oh come on.’ I take his arm and we start walking.


On the bus, I rest my head on his shoulder.  ‘You’ll have to wait outside my room for a bit, Love Actually-style.’

I’ve just remembered, I’d put out clean sheets ready to change them when I got in.  I just hadn’t reckoned on there being someone with me.  Plus there are the bits of foliage and thread (remnants of my fancy dress costume) strewn across the bed, which will need to go somewhere.  As for the rest of it, a quick tidy probably wouldn’t go amiss.  The scene in Love Actually, where Laura Linney’s character does a quick whizz-round of her room always brings out my superior streak.  I’ll never be like that, I think, watching it.  She should be tidier.

‘Give me… five minutes.’

Which is probably exactly what she says, isn’t it, to Karl, the ‘enigmatic designer’.

In my defence, this situation shouldn’t arise. I mean, if you saw my room, you would say at once that it couldn’t, or rather, shouldn’t, accommodate a second human being.  And I would be inclined to agree.


Ben appears in the doorway.  I would say he ‘surveys’ the room, but that would be to misrepresent the facts.

‘I said the bed was thin!’ I say, smoothing the duvet.

He takes me in his arms, or tries to.

‘You take off your leaves,’ he says, ‘I’ll take off my boots.’

I laugh.  ‘I bet that’s not a line you use often.’


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For Old Time’s Sake

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CC Image courtesy of lefthandrotation on Flickr

At first I’m not sure it’s him.  Then someone moves aside and I get a clearer view.  I flash a smile – yes I do – give a wave.  In his face, I see a spark of recognition tinged with puzzlement.  Then someone blocks my line of sight, or he looks away, and I’m left feeling like a bit of a gimp.  He doesn’t remember.

Or does he?

Our eyes meet again.  He’s walking towards me, through the crowd.  Winning smile #2.

‘I had no idea you’d be here!’ he says.

‘Ben!  Wow, what, it’s been, like, six years?!’

We hug, crumpling costumes.


Two weeks earlier…

‘Thank you for the invite.  I’m really looking forward to it!’

Georgie clasps her hands together. ‘You can come?  That’s great!’

Hard to say which of us looks more pleased.

‘Also, how do you know Ben?’

She has a habit of doing this, bringing up a new topic as if it’s a continuation of what’s gone before.

I frown. ‘Ben?’

‘Ben Phillips?’

The name rings a distant bell.

‘Oh, Ben!  I saw he was coming!  Reeling, actually.  But quite random reeling…’

In a barn, near home, years ago.  At the time, he was dating one of my classmates.  She was cool and sporty and not one of my favourite people.  He was open and warm and friendly.

‘I really liked him,’ I say, throwing caution to the wind.


I pass him in the corridor, make tutting noises.

‘It’s work,’ he says, waving the phone in the air. ‘I’m on call.’

He’s not a doctor so I’ve no idea what this means, but it’s hot.  We fall into conversation, drift in the direction of the sitting room and the makeshift dancefloor.

‘Dance?’ I say.  For old time’s sake.

He declines; he hasn’t had enough to drink.

Which is when Georgie appears and gives him no choice in the matter.


There’s something quite ‘school disco’ about it, which is fitting: a sea of familiar faces; disco anthems playing; gradually coming together, first to dance, then to kiss…


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