‘You’re welcome to get changed at mine beforehand if you’d rather not travel in white tie.’
It was too long, Anna felt, but the redrafting had become ridiculous.
He sent back, ‘I’m just figuring out how to get to London, and will let you know once I’ve decided.’
Then that last, adorable sentence. She smiles on reading it, the tell-tale grin of someone who should be working, but whose attention has strayed.
She sits a moment, chin resting on her hand, looking out of the window. It’s funny that he wants to know. Black tie, and it might be the bow tie, or a cummerbund. Can you wear a cummerbund with white tie? She thinks not. A handkerchief then, or a button hole? The idea of it makes her laugh.
The sound of a step brings her back to the present. It’s Gus, at the photocopier. He smiles. ‘Hey.’
It’s bright sun outside, almost a summer’s day. She walks in the direction of the gardens, where the beds are a riot of colour.
Flowers perhaps. He might present her with a bouquet. For all she knows that’s what they do on the continent.
Sophie thought that made a difference. ‘I think it’s even harder to know, if he’s German.’
Anna laughed. ‘Are you just saying what I want to hear?’
There was only one thing she couldn’t explain away and so it gave her hope. Three times Johann had issued an invitation, to a dinner in London. Twice in person and a third time when she had written to thank him for a ball. The cynic in her said it was probably because they were low on numbers, but still, she would only push it with someone she… but perhaps that was just her.
Then there was Freddie.
‘Someone left a red towel here – would that be yours?’
The quaint turn of phrase had made her smile.
‘It’s not mine I’m afraid. I’m sure someone will contact Freddie if it’s precious – I’ve let him know you’ve got it.’
Why had she said that? It would surely have made him think… but not to worry. Tonight it would be clear. She would be friendly and open. And Freddie almost certainly wouldn’t be there.
He’s one of the last to arrive. The sight of him makes her nervous and she doesn’t see – or if she does, she doesn’t register it – but kisses him, on the cheeks, her arm at an awkward angle.
‘These are for you,’ he says, stepping back. ‘Navy is a difficult colour to match!’
She can feel her face growing hot. ‘Thank you – they’re beautiful.’
Deep blue anenomes with velvety black centres, bluebells, and white tulips.
‘It’s a tradition back home. You always bring flowers that match your partner’s dress.’
‘Aaw.’ Their scent is light and sweet. ‘Thank you.’
She hugs him, kisses him again on the cheek.
‘All girls like flowers.’
Anna half-turns in her seat, smiling.
‘We saw your flowers, and were just saying, all girls like to be given flowers.’
It’s a passenger across the aisle. Anna looks down at the bouquet. ‘I thought so, when I heard you mention flowers.’
‘Are they from your boyfriend?’ says the girl beside him.
‘No.’ She explains, about it being a tradition.
‘Your future boyfriend.’
‘No,’ she says again, smiling.
The sky is brightening as she walks home from the bus stop. The streets are deserted and she starts to dance, flowers in hand. At her gate, she looks up and notices the wave-like structure of the roof, silhouetted black against the sky: a deep, beautiful blue.
The Bottom Line