Lucy pops her head round the door.
‘Has everyone got a drink?’
‘Oh God, sorry!’ I jump up, grab her glass and the bottle. ‘I never…’
I follow her through to the kitchen, pour her a drink, and set about prepping the cheeseboard. I’ll apologise to Benedict later, I think to myself as I wash the grapes, for dashing off when he was mid-sentence. It’s probably for the best though. I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours trying – and according to Freddie failing – not to look at Benedict in an adoring way. Now I’m looking at cheese in an adoring way whilst chatting to Lucy, and it’s much less draining. Tomorrow I’ll email my mother and ask her how one participates in a social engagement without constantly desiring the attention of a tall, sensitive musician with cheekbones fit for the catwalk.
I look round to see Benedict, all 6ft5 of him, enter the kitchen. Next thing I know he’s found the grater and is making short shrift of a block of cheddar. I’m surprised. I’d thought him the kind of guy who’d be perfectly happy kicking back on the sofa, life and dinner party prep passing him by.
‘Sorry,’ Lucy says to me, ‘when you got the invitation to dinner you probably didn’t think you’d end up in the kitchen!’
‘No, I like it!’ I say. ‘It might sound weird but I almost prefer it, having a use.’
‘So do I.’
I glance over at the speaker. He’s finished grating cheese and is busy arranging flowers in a makeshift vase. Task complete, he wanders over to where I’m standing. He takes a grape from the washed bunch, and eats it.
‘Oi!’ It’s hardly a reprimand. He reaches for another; I brush his hand away. ‘You can have one of those,’ I say, pointing to the packet, ‘but they’re not washed.’
He looks at the wrapper. ‘But they are “sweet and succulent”, so that’s fine.’
I smile. ‘Sorry for dashing off earlier by the way. I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be getting Lucy a drink. You – you were saying…’
Under the intense gaze of amber eyes, I’ve little to no chance of remembering.
He half-smiles. ‘What was I saying?’
‘I think you were telling me where you’re from – to check you were from the right…’
‘World’ is on the tip of my tongue, meant as an (admittedly lame) joke, but the problem is, well, it’s just way too close to the bone. There’s something otherworldly about this guy. He belongs in Camelot or Narnia or… anywhere but here. So instead I say,
‘… part of the world.’
And end up sounding like a snob. We joke about my choice of words. How can someone so ethereal be at the same time witty, sharp, charming…? Inwardly I curse Freddie. He’d put us next to each other at dinner the night before. When it came to rotating for the second course, Freddie took his place.
‘What are you going to call him?’
‘In the blog? Have you chosen a name yet?’
I give him a dewy smile. ‘Very funny.’
‘What?! Everyone’s in on it!’
‘What do you mean?!’
I’m enjoying myself, of course. Freddie doesn’t answer.
I glance round the table. ‘What do you mean, everyone’s in on it?’
He laughs. ‘No, not really. Just, someone said to me earlier that you looked like you were getting on well, and I said, don’t worry, they’re sitting next to each other at dinner.’
I look across the table at Benedict. He’s chatting and laughing with another girl.
‘Well, they’re getting on well too.’
‘She’s not looking at him the way you were though.’
‘And he’s not looking at her the way he was looking at you.’
I say nothing, but drink from my wine glass.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
La Dolce Vita
Adverse Conditions (Freddie, Part 1)
The Time Of My Life