The newly-washed Mercedes Benz approached the road beside the little church, splattered with streaks of mud up the sides from the road. The tires splashed into a large puddle by the curb and showered two young girls, who -desperate to have the first peak at the bride- were standing too close to the edge. They squealed and ran back into the church, their chiffon dresses dripping as they went. The engine idled as a tall gentleman, dressed in a sharp black tuxedo, eased out of the driving seat and walked around the car, careful to avoid the shiny white ribbons adorning the bonnet and opened the side door.
White satin stilettos stepped out of the car and disappeared beneath the skirt of a long, ivory gown as a bride stepped out. The young woman touched her golden hair with her gloved hands to check it was still swept up in a loose bun at the side of her head. Wispy fly-away hairs cascaded down her defined cheeks to her collarbone.
‘Sophie darling,’ called out her mother, as she walked around the car to her side, holding a bouquet of four dozen roses. Her hair was cut to her jawline into a neat bob and her face wrinkled ever so slightly as she smiled warmly at her daughter. She handed the bouquet to her and said,
‘Now don’t lose this, I was up all night making it for you,’ Sophie’s green eyes shined as she smiled sheepishly back and took the roses into her hands. It was surprisingly heavy and glistened in the daylight, each rose sporting a diamond.
‘It’s beautiful,’ was all Sophie could say. She looked up across the cobbled path, between the cemetery gravestones and eyed the old chapel standing before her. A short, bald man in a suit holding a camera far too large for his stature, hopped around snapping pictures from every angle.
‘That’s it, love, look at me now, give us a nice big smile’ he said with energy. After a few minutes of this, the mother flicked her hands at the man and said,
‘That’s enough Freddie, will you go and wait inside please, I want to have a word with my daughter’. The man bowed and walked down the path towards the chapel at a fast pace. Sophie turned to her mother; finding it suddenly difficult to breathe.
‘Mum, this is really happening,’ she said with wide eyes. Her mum held her cheek with her right hand and gripped her arm.
‘My darling, you’re not having second thoughts, are you? It’s going to be alright!’
‘No, I’m not having second thoughts!’ cried Sophie, she looked out at the chapel as she bit her lip.
‘I was just wondering… how do you know that everything is going to be alright? I have this feeling like it’s too perfect, you know? Like something bad is going to happen… I’m sorry -I’m just suddenly freaking out and I don’t know what to do!’ Sophie rambled as she fiddled with her veil.
Her mother gave Sophie a look, her face smiled but her eyes looked concerned. Suddenly, their heart-to-heart was interrupted by a downpour of rain and the driver – who had been standing awkwardly beside the car the whole time – suddenly pulled out an umbrella from the glove box of the car and ushered the women into the chapel. There was a small side room before the main hall. Sophie walked inside, followed by her mother. The room was quite plain, with nothing but a small table and two chairs and a simple vase of artificial flowers sitting on a doily on the table. Organ music could be heard playing in the chapel hall and the light mumbling from the guests told Sophie that she needed to pull herself together quick, people were waiting. Nick was waiting. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought.
‘Sit down,’ Sophie’s mother said gently, as she too, sat down. Sophie placed her bouquet on the table and watched the damp rose petals leave a wet patch on the white linen tablecloth.
‘Sophie, my darling.’ her mum began softly. Before she could continue, the door opened, and an usher came stumbling into the room and looked at the two women with a startled expression.
‘What on Earth are you doing? We’re talking in here!’ snapped Sophie’s mother at the young man.
He gulped and muttered apologies before saying in a very small voice, ‘Everyone is just – err - wondering why you aren’t coming in?’
Sophie stood up quickly and attempted to brush out the creases on her dress. Then she picked up her flowers and motioned for her mother to stand too.
‘I just needed a moment, I’m ready now, Patrick-’ she said in a high voice. Sophie’s mother gave the young usher a reproachful look.
‘Listen to me, my daughter will be in there when she’s in there! It is a tradition for a bride to be late, and that clock says I’ve got at least thirty minutes with her until we have to go in. Now go and entertain the guests.’ The usher nodded apologetically and disappeared, the door closing behind him. Sophie sat back down and relaxed her shoulders a little. Her mother joined her at the table again and took her hand.
‘Have I ever told you the story about your father and I?’ she asked.
‘You both met each other at a party, fell hopelessly in love and decided to get married three weeks later, yes I remember,’ Sophie replied dully.
Her mother shook her head with a smile.
‘Oh, my dear, it was nowhere near as rosy as that. I think it’s time you know the full story.’
The ‘Meet Cute’
Bristol: 02 March 2012
I remember the day when I first saw your father as vividly as if it happened only yesterday. I was working as a teaching assistant at one of the private schools in Clifton. Every morning, I would get the bus into town and walk up the huge hill along Park Street to get to work. On the way, I would stop in the same coffee shop. It was quaint and dimly lit, nice and cozy. The ceiling had low wooden beams and there were far too many tables crammed into the small space. It was my favourite place to sit and have one of their calorie-packed hot chocolate, with lashings of whipped cream on top- it really was indulgent.
It was a seemingly dull day; the clouds were thick in the sky and the people were particularly miserable about the lack of sunlight we had that year. I kept to myself and buried my head into a book, Jane Eyre - to be precise - and then something made me look up. A bell rang as the door opened and in stepped a young man wearing a waxy leather jacket and holding an Oakley laptop bag by his side. He strode confidently over to the counter and smiled in a relaxed fashion as he looked up at the menu. I was facing him, but he didn’t see me staring with my mouth hanging open. He had a dimple on his chin and a strong forehead, slightly shielded by his jet-black hair. I watched, transfixed as he ordered a hot chocolate and nestled down into a comfy chair across from me. He opened his bag and pulled out a black chunky laptop and set it down on the table in front of him. Then his face was heavy set in a brooding fashion as he took a sip of the hot chocolate, licked the cream off his upper-lip and started to type. I stared at him so long – trying to build the courage to talk to him - that it made me late for my first class.
The next day, I hurried to the coffee shop, ordered another hot chocolate and sat down in the same seat facing the door. The upbeat tunes coming across the radio seemed to reflect my mood as I waited anxiously to see if this new mystery man would come in again. Long minutes passed and my hot chocolate became cold. I gulped it down quickly and started to read the last chapter of Jane Eyre, keeping a chameleon eye on the front door and jumping whenever the bell jingled as someone walked in. I finished the book, checked my watch and with a slight tinge of disappointment, dashed out of the door and headed up the hill towards the school for another day.
I marched through the black gates, along the cobbled driveway leading to the cluster of old houses which were converted into Clifton High, my home away from home. My heels clicked on the marble floor in the grand hall as I walked. It sported a large central staircase and various corridors leading to the classrooms. The bell rang, and a swarm of girls dressed in blue checkered skirts and navy jumpers came from every direction. The sound of excited babble and squeals ricocheted off the high ceiling and snapped me out of my thoughts.
Mrs. Callingham appeared from the top of the stairs and stretched her arms out to the girls below.
‘My dear girls,’ she called out, everyone stopped moving to listen to the shrill voice of their adored Headmistress.
‘Please take care to show your respect for these halls as you walk to assembly,’ she continued in her Queen’s English accent. The girls gave hushed giggles as they filed into the narrow hall towards the assembly hall. Today was when Reverend Hale was due to make his address. He was a stout man, with a snout for a nose and a drawling tone in his voice. His speeches were less to be desired first thing in the morning. Students have been known to fall asleep, one girl even slid off her chair and flopped onto the floor, though the rest of the girls in the assembly were only aware of her when she snored loudly- the sound magnified thanks to the excellent acoustics in the hall.
The main hall was large enough for the whole school to be seated in with a stage at the front and a balcony at the rear. The classes of girls were sat in rows and the teachers perched themselves on chairs along the edges of the hall. A panel of ‘important’ people sat on stage where four chairs were seated; these included the Head Girl, Deputy Headmistress and Mrs. Callingham herself. The speaker due at that assembly occupied the fourth chair. As I took my seat near the back exit, I could see a tall, skinny man, sporting a reverend attire and clutching a small book in his nimble hands. Reverend Hale was not on the stand. I wondered what happened to him.
With everyone seated, the organist began playing and the girls started to sing, ‘Here I am, Lord’. It was my favourite song in the hymn book. I couldn’t say I was particularly religious at that time but something about the song resonated with me. Especially the promise included in the final line of the song.
‘I will go Lord; I will keep your people in my heart’.
There is nothing more beautiful, than the ideology of serving others and caring about everyone enough to ‘hold them in your heart’. I suppose that was one of the first occasions of my young adult life that opened me up to the idea of love and what it truly meant to love. I was consumed in my thoughts of the essence of love and how often the word is thrown around in language and not truly felt. Is love a thing? Is it a verb? Or is it a nice idea? If I was ‘in love’, what would make me ‘fall out’? And is love alive? If not, then how can it die?
My thoughts were interrupted again with the sound of Mrs. Callingham’s shrill voice.
‘Good morning my dear girls, as you can see, Reverend Hale is not with us today. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe heart attack last night and will not be delivering his sermon today,’ An air of shock and guilty relief filled the air as the girls turned to each other and started to whisper their own theories of what Reverend Hale must have been doing when he suffered the heart attack and who might have found him. ‘Maybe he was bible bashing,’ sneered one of the girls. A red-headed girl grinned and whispered, ‘Or maybe he was “exercising”,’ she said with a wink and laughed as the girls around her gasped and covered their mouths in surprise. I leaned forward and looked at them with a stern expression and said in my best authoritarian voice,
‘Enough of that girls, listen to Mrs. Callingham.’ I couldn’t help but feel selfishly grateful that we were spared another boring sermon as the headmistress continued.
‘Here we have Reverend Pembleton, he will take over for Reverend Hale for a while and so I am pleased to announce that he will be addressing us today.’ She turned back to give the tall skinny reverend an expectant smile. He cleared his throat and stood up, strode over to the microphone and nodded to Mrs Callingham who took her seat. The hall stayed quiet.
The girls were taking in the appearance of their new speaker; his long pinstripe suit was slightly too big and creased on the legs. His chin was long and pointy like his nose and his straw-like hair was thin on the sides. He wiped his large nose on a dirty handkerchief and placed it back into his trouser pocket.
‘Good morning,’ he began in a low tone. The room remained still, but for a slight cough coming from the balcony. ‘I would like to start with a quote from the good book,’ he continued as he raised the small book clasped in his right hand. I withheld the urge to sigh, readying myself for a long speech about doing good to others and a lot of ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘thine’.
‘To be an exceptional golfer, you must start with the basics…’ Reverend Pembleton began reading. The room exploded in laughter. Shocked, I leaned forward and squinted, trying to make out what the book was. It had a picture of a golf club on the front. I raised my eyebrows and looked over to Mr Chatworth, the biology teacher sitting on my right. He was clapping and said ‘bravo’. Mrs. Callingham pursed her lips and her eyes narrowed, I wondered if she considering whether to have this scoundrel frog-marched off the school grounds. The girls and teachers settled down and the room was quiet once more, this time with bated breath as everyone wanted to know what this controversial reverend was going to say next. He gave a slight grin, before setting the book in his suit pocket and leaning into the microphone to continue.
‘Now I have your attention, I want to speak to you about something important. Golf. Why? For a number of reasons, but firstly because I like to play Golf, I also know a lot about the sport. And they say that it’s always good to talk about what you know.
Golfing is a great skill to have. It is hard to get that elusive hole-in-one. To win at the game, you have to finish with as few points as possible. The more tries it takes to get the ball into the hole, the more points incurred. Like life, we need to indulge in as few sins as possible to win our mansion on high. Sin buries us down with guilt. The more we sin, the more guilt we carry.
Another reason golf is like life is that there is often more than one path we can choose. Some paths are good or bad, others are less obvious. Sometimes we gamble with a risky path with the promise of a big reward. Other times we are faced with choices that are good, better and best. But how do we determine which path to choose? That’s the fun of the game though, you weigh up the pros and cons for a while, then decide on a path, letting it lead you forward. Sometimes we feel out of control or stuck in a bunker with no hope of getting out. In those times, we have to pick up the ball and try again or take advice from a friend with more wisdom and experience.
Last weekend, I was on the green with a close friend. We enjoyed the first few holes, but I found my ball was stuck in a ditch. There were thick trees ahead of me and I needed to hit the ball hard to get it out. My friend had walked on past the trees, I could not see him, but I heard him call out to me. “Aim for the right,” he said confidently. I knew that the hole was in fact, to the left of my position, so this advice seemed absurd to me. Still, I trusted my friend and though I did not see him nor what he was looking at, I knew that he could see a better path for me than I could. I hit the ball hard out of the ditch and over to the right. It shot through the trees and ended up out on the other side. I rushed over to it and found my friend standing there with a smile. The hole was on the far left and my ball was considerably far on the right. At first, I was a little disgruntled and wondered if I had been fooled. Perhaps my friend had given me bad instructions for his own gain. Then I noticed that to the left of my position was a small fish pond. If I had not followed my friend’s advice, my ball would have surely been lost in the pond.
We are all blessed with someone who loves us and wants to guide us in our lives. It may be a parent, uncle, grandparent, or a religious figure. It may seem that their counsel is not with your best interest at heart. It might seem that you think you know better. But our knowledge is limited to what we know and see in our current position. So, take heed on your leaders, humble yourselves enough to listen to the wisdom in their words. You may end up better for it.’
It was the most illuminating speech I had ever heard during assembly. Reverend Pembleton became the favourite teacher at the school. Although his physical appearance was awkward and undesirable, the girls swooned at his charisma and inspired choice of words during assembly.
That afternoon, I approached Reverend Pembleton in the dining hall; a babble of girls swarmed him with their dinner trays as we lined up by the canteen and took our plates.
‘I very much enjoyed your sermon this morning, Reverend Pembleton,’ I said politely. He smiled down at me – now he was close to me, he towered over me and the girls. ‘Please call me Tom.’ he replied kindly. I blushed like one of the school girls.
‘I’m Audrey, but everyone calls me Dee,’ I replied shyly. We exchanged pleasantries as we chose our hot meal, a dessert and a piece of fruit. I refused my usual chocolate donut and took a grapefruit instead. It was sliced in half and came with a packet of brown sugar. Mrs Callingham called it ‘brain food’ and as I was hoping to impress Tom, I felt this was the most appropriate choice because I was not sure what message it must have sent to pile my plate with chocolate donuts.
Tom and I became friends. We found ourselves talking at great lengths about politics, classical music and Tom liked to talk about golf.
Weeks passed by, and though I continued to sit down in the coffee shop on park street in the mornings, Tom joined me. The mysterious man with the laptop bag didn’t come back in and remained a fantasy. Tom was kind, and he was funny too. We laughed, and after a month of our morning routine, he placed his hand on mine and asked me seriously.
‘Would you like to go on a date?’ Nothing could stop me from beaming as I nodded in reply. Tom sat back and grinned like a Cheshire cat. His upper lip dimpled, and his nostrils flared with excitement.
‘This Friday? We can go out after school finishes? I know a nice little Italian restaurant in Town.’ he said lightly. I rambled on about how nice that would be, and we gathered our bags and headed out of the coffee shop to start walking to school.
Not only did my morning routine become something to look forward to, but I also enjoyed the school days as well. ‘Miss, where is Mr Bloom?’ a small first-year girl asked me. I was covering for the English teacher one morning; the class was not very big with only 14 pupils to teach and usually involved good debates between the girls. We discussed Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the madding crowd’, which then sent my mind wandering toward Tom and how he might be doing with his class. I suddenly remembered that he didn’t have a class in the morning, his fifth formers were doing work experience. With that thought, I stared into the distance as the excitable girls debated amongst themselves when I noticed a figure pass by the door window. Hopeful it wasn’t Mrs Callingham checking up on me, I jumped in my seat and snapped back to the present and listened to the presentation.
As the end of the day on Friday approached, my heart started racing with nervousness. It had been years since I had been on a proper date. My life had been consumed by study and books that boys were never on my mind. My last boyfriend was in high school, Tomas Varela. He was Portuguese, a charming boy who knew how to flatter a teenage girl. I spent many dates just admiring his handsome dark features and soaked in his compliments. ‘Your eyes are like stars, they sparkle in the night’ and ‘My heart stopped beating for a moment when you walked in, your beauty blows me away,’ he would chime to me in his beautiful accent. Tomas enjoyed playing the guitar and wrote songs and poems dedicated to me. His words were so sickly sweet that I soon felt tired of how much he enjoyed expressing his feelings to me. Which he did, all the time. The relationship ended badly, when I found him with his arms around another girl in my class in town, kissing her fully on the lips. It turned out that he had four girls on the go at the same time. He even wrote them all the same songs and poems – only changing the girl’s name.
What should you do on a date? Tom and I got on perfectly well in a casual setting, but what are the expectations within a romantic setting? Were we in the friends’ zone? Was I foolish to date him? I enjoyed Tom’s company and I was certainly excited to spend time with him, but our height difference was slightly awkward, him being head and shoulders taller than me. Then there was the fact that he was so thin and not especially handsome. Was I even attracted to him? I didn’t know. All I knew was that I was attracted to his personality; he had a lovely spirit for sure. Is that enough?
The bell rang to signal the end of the day and the halls and corridors were filled with rushing school girls, eager to catch the school bus home or make their way to the parents, who were waiting to pick them up. I waited in the main hall and nodded to the girls as they passed. ‘Bye Miss,’ a few of the girls called out to me as they went. The crowds eased, and Tom came strolling towards me. He had changed into a dark suit; this one had been ironed, I may add. I felt a little self-conscious in my pink tartan skirt and silk blouse – the same clothes I wore this morning. I hadn’t even thought to change for our date.
‘Hi, sorry I didn’t bring any clothes,’ I rambled awkwardly but Tom shook his head.
‘You look lovely -’ he started to say quietly.
He watched the last few girls leave the hall and turned back to me. ‘Shall we go?’ He asked in a cheery tone. We walked out of the hall and strolled down the cobbled driveway. There were a few girls dotted around the green in front of the school, and I saw Miss Garland, the P.E. Teacher, setting up the courts for her after school tennis lessons. Neatly pruned laurel bushes lined the border of the huge driveway. I stopped walking and stared as one of them shivered for a moment, then a small black cat dashed out of its hiding place and scurried along the path towards the Science building.
‘How was your day?’ Tom asked politely. He was oddly formal in his manner which was disconcerting. We had spoken with ease until now until we were on a date. Suddenly, everything felt so forced and strained. ‘Oh, fine’ I replied. Thinking of nothing extraordinary about my day worth mentioning. ‘How was yours?’ I asked politely, Tom nodded. ‘Pretty usual,’ he said. We reached the iron gates at the end of the drive which opened out onto a small side road with cars parked on both sides.
‘Actually, Reverend Hale has been making good progress after his surgery, they believe he can come back in a month,’ Tom said in a strange tone. He gave me a furtive look as if to read the expression on my face, searching for a reaction. My eyebrows automatically raised as I took a step back. ‘Oh, good,’ I said, slightly breathless. What does that mean for Tom? Would he have to leave when Reverend Hale returns? Where will he go? Would they continue dating?
Suddenly this date became complicated. Of course, you don’t have to work at the same place to date. But at this point, I was uncertain about my feelings towards Tom, and it was only through the day to day interaction that made him grow on me. I couldn’t imagine making more of an effort to see him if he wasn’t around me all the time.
‘Well, I made reservations for 5, and it can take some time to get to the restaurant in rush hour’.
Tom’s rambling disturbed my thoughts. I blinked and looked down at my watch. We had 40 minutes to get into the center of Bristol; it was more than enough time.
‘Well, there’s no point in taking a car, we only need to walk down Park Street to get to Town,’ I offered lightly. It was a pleasant June afternoon, the sun was still shining, and a light breeze ran through the many trees in Clifton. If you closed your eyes, it sounded like waves on the ocean. Tom shrugged with a smile,
‘I don’t know this place very much, but ok, if you want to walk, we can do that,’ he said as we started strolled down the path towards the main road.
Clifton is the sort of place that never loses beauty or dignity. Occupied with only Britain’s finest residents, in grand Victorian houses surrounded by matured Oak trees. There were parks dotted around the cobbled streets and perfect strangers greeted each other in the morning. The chip shops would charge a premium for their fish & chips and coffee shops were in abundance. A quaint little cake shop sat near a row of little shops by a large grassy park which the locals referred to as “the Downs”. Many a boyfriend would take their girl to the Downs for a cheeky ‘first kiss’. Another hot spot for couples was the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was a creation of Brunel and looked beautiful at night all lit up like a Christmas tree.
We walked along the roads, admiring the scenery and started the long descent onto Park Street. Tom was mostly quiet as we walked, and I felt compelled to break the silence, which led to a short, awkward one-sided conversation until I was left with nothing else to say. I realized that my decision to walk was a bad one, as we would have to endure this long awkward silence after our meal while we walked back to our cars, which were parked outside the school. Not only that, but we would be walking uphill with a stomach full of greasy Italian food. I made a mental note not to eat or drink too much.
Once we entered the center of Bristol and headed towards the Hippodrome Theatre - which is where most of the nice eating establishments were - Tom got out his phone and checked his GPS.
‘I’m not sure where the restaurant is now,’ he mumbled. I politely asked for the name of it, as having lived in Bristol my entire life, I was pretty certain I would know the restaurant anyway. Tom shook his head.
‘No, I can’t remember, I stumbled upon it when I went for a walk a couple of months ago,’ he said as he scrolled through different listings on his phone. I wondered how you could make dinner reservations with a restaurant and not know what it was called but thought better than to ask. Tom was in a strange mood and I reasoned that second-guessing him was not the best idea.
We stood there awkwardly as streams of people marched back and forth. Suddenly, my eyes locked with a man who was walking towards me. My jaw fell open as I stared at his face. I knew that face. His blue eyes pierced my very soul. They were kind, deep and intense. He was walking towards me, my knight in shining armour – or waxy jacket and suit trousers – carrying an Oakley laptop bag. It was him. The mystery man I saw in the coffee shop. The world became foggy, while he remained in perfect High definition. I felt my face break into a huge smile of giddiness. He was still looking at me when he winked and gave me a cheeky grin. As he did so, a dimple appeared in his left cheek. Then he passed by me and carried on walking towards Temple Meads – the local train station. Suddenly the world came rushing back into focus and I was overwhelmed by the noise of the traffic and people chatting all around me. Tom was looking at me oddly. ‘Are you ok?’ he asked in a weird voice. I jumped and stared at him surprised. How long had I been in that dazed state? It felt like seconds, but it could have been much longer for all I knew.
‘Yes,’ I replied breathlessly. ‘I just feel a bit crowded with all these people, do you know where to go now?’ Tom gave a sheepish smile in return.
‘No, but here’s the thing, I didn’t make reservations, I don’t even know why I said I made them. I guess I’m just nervous, I don’t usually do this,’ Tom reeled in a shy tone. He didn’t normally act like this. What was wrong with us? We had spoken to each other every day for weeks, on every subject matter possible, and now Tom couldn’t even tell me the truth? We needed to relax! This was the most tense, awkward date I had ever been on! So, I decided to take charge on the situation,
‘How about we just grab a drink in our favourite coffee shop?’ I offered kindly. Tom’s face relaxed suddenly.
‘That sounds great, I’m not even that hungry’ he replied as we both turned around and started walking back up the hill.
‘This feels… a bit strange, doesn’t it?’ he continued in a careful voice. I laughed with a nod in reply.
‘I don’t know how to behave,’ I said. Tom agreed. The sun was started to set as we walked hand in hand, and everything had a soft golden hew about it. The air was warm, with a gentle breeze which was calming. Tom’s hand felt comfortable in mine. I looked at him and noticed that he was more relaxed now that we were back in comfortable territory.
We came up to the coffee shop and Tom held the door open while I strolled in. The room was filled with students talking animatedly to each other about their day and the atmosphere felt so relaxed and light that I relaxed my shoulders and took a breath. Tom bought us each a hot chocolate while I found a tiny nook with two comfy chairs in the corner of the room, out of the way of everyone else. As Tom paid for the drinks, I dragged my fingers through my frizzy hair and started to daydream about my second encounter with the mystery man. How did he have such an effect on me? Tom walked over, and I eyed him carefully. His straw-like hair was tousled, and he had rings under his dull grey eyes. He smiled, and I smiled back but my heart was like dead weight in my chest. No, it was worse than that. It was numb. A little like the loud banging music thumping in your ears when you have your headphones on the highest setting, and then you listen to the radio in the kitchen. Your ears are still ringing slightly and the simple tones coming from the radio are far less exciting. Something about my encounter with the mystery man with the laptop bag completely rattled me. But now was not the time to brood over such things, I was supposed to be on a date! I mentally shook myself out of my thoughts just in time to hear Tom asking me a question.
“Would you like a slice of cake with your hot chocolate?” he offered. I gave a cheeky grin in response, we both knew the answer to that one. Tom set the two mugs down on the table and turned around while I dipped my finger in one of them and tasted a little whipped cream. It was warm and delicious. As Tom returned to the counter, the brunette at the till eyed him with a strange smile. Her eyes rested on the dog collar at his neck and then flicked back up to his face as she smiled at him. I wondered if she was attracted to him, although the thought didn’t bother me. Not in the slightest. In fact, the absence of jealousy in me, stirred up a confusion. Why is it that I felt so comfortable and excited to spend time with Tom, Yet he seems to fail to invoke any romantic feeling in me? Had we become stuck in the “friend” category?
The woman at the till handed two small plates to Tom, each holding a mammoth slice of chocolate cake. ‘Enjoy,’ I heard her say as Tom walked away from the counter back to me. He swaggered slightly to the music and settled in the chair opposite me. I took one of the mugs to my lips and sipped on the creamy hot chocolate. After a few good sips, I licked the cream off my lips and set the cup down again. Tom took a bite out of his cake. ‘Mm’ he said as he nodded with approval at the taste. I picked up my spoon and scraped off some icing.
‘Dee,’ Tom said suddenly. My eyes shot up to his face, surprised at the sound of my name. For the most part, Tom would just start talking to me, he rarely called me by name, and there was something about his tone that unsettled me, it was serious and a huge contrast to the light-hearted, relaxed attitude he seemed to reflect.
‘Yes,’ I replied, eyeing his face with interest, his eyes intense as they bored into mine. He edged a little closer and leaned over the table, taking my hands in his. They were slightly moist with sweat and bony. My heart fluttered with anticipation.
‘I’ve enjoyed working at Clifton High, and I appreciate the circumstances around it were unfortunate. Though it seems that Reverend Hale will make a full recovery, which is good. The girls are great. It certainly beats teaching a class of students who just don’t want to be there. These girls want to learn about religion; they are polite and sweet. It’s quite a welcome contrast to some of my previous postings. But mostly, I have enjoyed meeting you and spending time with you each day. I must confess that I look forward to our hot chocolate mornings and get excited each Sunday as I think about seeing you again. You have become a fond part of my life.’ Tom’s voice was charismatic. His words flowed easily, as his many sermons during Assembly. My heart sighed at the sound of his words. I wondered if he practiced this speech in private. He spoke so fluently.
‘I know we have only known each other for a couple of months, but I enjoy spending time with you, and I struggle to imagine a future without you in it.’ I gulped slightly as the heaviness of his words pressed upon my mind. Tom licked his lips and continued in the sincerest tone.
‘I adore you, Dee.’ he said. I gasped and smiled in response, clasping his hands a little more tightly.
‘Tom – that is so -’ I started to say but he shook his head.
‘Don’t speak yet, if I don’t say this now, I may never get it out.’ I shut my mouth. Waiting for him to tell me more. Excited to hear more of this delicious monologue. ‘I love the way your golden hair flows to the narrow of your back. Your eyes are beautiful and confusing. I think they are green but sometimes they look yellow. I can’t help but notice that they shine in the sunlight and they give your thoughts away – you don’t realise that. Your eyes are so expressive.’ He laughed slightly. I stared back in surprise. Guilt rose in my chest and I wondered how much he read in my eyes after the brief encounter with the mystery man previously. ‘I would like to date you, take you to the theatre, you know, ‘woo’ you.’ He started to ramble a little. ‘Do you know how sweet-natured you are? I love that about you. Remember how you thanked me for my sermon on my first day? Then you sat with me for lunch and every day since you endure my golf-related discussions.’ I laughed at that. He didn’t understand how much I loved listening to him speak. He could have been talking about wild fungi for all I cared. He was eloquent and drew me in with each syllable. ‘I know this might be a little unorthodox, but I would really like to see you on a more romantic basis,’ he stopped talking and his face paled. Maybe he suddenly realised that he had divulged too much emotion at once. I, however, was smiling ear to ear, drunk on the loving fumes he was sending me with his compliments. My heart was thumping my chest and my hands started to sweat a little in his clammy hands.
‘I would love that,’ I said softly. Tom looked startled for a moment, then leaned into me and brushed his lips on mine for a brief moment. My lips tingled under his touch, and my body shivered with surprise. I heard a cough coming from the counter and noticed that the young brunette was looking furtively at Tom.
We finished our drinks and enjoyed the chocolate cake while exchanging random thoughts about life and little quirks of the school. The sky was dark outside as we walked out of the coffee shop some hours later. I held my arms, tensing against the cool English night. The street lights glowed like warm fire embers lighting up the path. The road was still full of traffic, now the partygoers were coming out for the night. It was Friday after all.
‘What would you like to do?’ Tom asked, holding my hand as he walked. I looked up at him, his height over me was more obvious now we walked closely together. I made a mental note to buy some higher stilettos.
‘Well, I don’t drink, and I don’t really enjoy clubbing,’ I thought aloud, mostly to myself as I ticked off the places to go out. Tom shrugged his shoulders.
‘I’m teetotal as well,’ he said simply. I looked at him in shock. Drinking was a huge part of English culture, it surprised me that anyone would be teetotal. Of course, I was because every time I had a drink it made me vomit and I suffered from an irrational fear of vomiting. Now I thought about it, I could not quite imagine Tom sat by a bar, a pint in his hand talking with the lads about Golf. The picture was so out of place in my mind.
‘Why do you not drink?’ I blurted out. Hoping I wasn’t sounding rude. Tom looked thoughtful for a minute.
‘My dad was an alcoholic,’ he started to say. I gasped and apologised for prying. ‘No, it’s ok,’ Tom said kindly. ‘I want to tell you these things,’ he continued. I knew that there was a part of him just being nice, but I appreciated it. ‘I was sitting my Science GCSE exam when my mum came running into the exam hall, hysterical and crying. The teachers were dragging her out of the hall when she just screamed “he’s dead, his father’s dead” and the whole hall went dead silent in response. My teacher - or the examiner, whoever it was that was holding my mum back - just let go in shock. She ran over to me, took my hand and we walked out of the hall to the car. I didn’t even get to finish my paper.’
‘Oh Tom, I’m so sorry, I can’t imagine how hard that was for you,’ I said softly, rubbing his arm. The hair on his arms was surprisingly soft under my hand. ‘So, you won't drink because it killed your dad?’ I asked carefully. Tom shrugged.
‘He died in a car accident while he was drunk,’ he explained. ‘The hell he put my mother through, not knowing where he was, the aggression, never reliable, the blackouts -Well, there were many factors. I just think that living a teetotal life makes things simpler,’ he ended as we reached the road outside Clifton High. Our cars were parked outside the gates. My small Corsa and his Audi estate. I turned to him, he held both my hands in his as I looked up into his grey eyes. They were dark in the street light.
‘Is that why you decided to be a Reverend?’ I asked softly. Tom thought for a moment.
‘My father was a Reverend, actually’ he said with a slight laugh. I raised my eyebrows and he smiled strangely back. ‘Many of his friends, still have no idea of his… issues with alcohol.’
‘They didn’t know he was an alcoholic?’ I replied incredulously.
‘No,’ Tom replied simply. Then when he saw that I wasn’t convinced, he added, ‘He hid it well.’ The finality in his tone told me that he was done talking about it. I didn’t push him on the subject and leaned in to hug him instead. I was suddenly choking on Tom’s musky scent as he held me tightly in his arms. His thin torso was bony, and I could feel his ribs through his shirt pressing against my cheek. The flutter in my chest faded. I tilted my head back to look up at Tom’s face and before I knew anything, he was kissing me. His lips were moving awkwardly, and I squinted my closed eyes against his touch, waiting for it to end. Tom leaned back and smiled at me, apparently unaware of my feelings. My eyes didn’t give away that much after all, as I broke contact with him and stood back.
‘Well, I’ve enjoyed this,’ I started as I got my keys out of my bag and fiddled with them in my hands.
‘Do you want to -’ Tom started to ask but I interrupted him quickly.
‘I need to get back home, I have an early start tomorrow,’ I lied. I had nothing to do that weekend, with the major highlight being a good lie in and catching up on my favourite TV Show. Tom nodded.
‘Doing anything nice?’ he asked. I tried to stop my eyes averting from his and said the first thing that came to my mind.
‘I’m driving to my parents’ house,’ I lied.
‘They live in Southampton, right? That’s quite a drive,’ Tom said mildly. I nodded.
‘Well, I’ll call you tomorrow night, see how you are?’ he said as I unlocked my car and got in. Tom leaned in and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, I smiled in response, and Tom closed the door.
‘Bye!’ I called out as I started the ignition. Tom was brimming with happiness, waving at me in a jovial manner as I drove away. My smile melted off my face when I turned the corner and headed towards the main road.
The drive to my house was fairly long. The dark country roads past Long Ashton towards Portishead were quiet and allowed my mind to race ahead with other thoughts. It was like I had just been on a rollercoaster. My feelings for Tom were all over the place. I was certain that I possessed no romantic feelings for him, yet when he poured his heart out to me, and when he kissed me the first time, I practically swooned at him. Then, it all changed again. Suddenly, his touch, his scent, his kiss - It was all wrong! Now I had found myself in a relationship with the man. At least, it seemed like it. He was so intense and open with me in the coffee shop. I didn’t dare wonder what he wanted to do, but I wasn’t willing to find out. I moaned to myself in the car, ‘What are you doing, Dee? What have you got yourself into?’ I had no idea.