“Tell me everything you’re going through,” Chris says as I join him at his table at the restaurant where we have agreed to have lunch. I feel like an immense weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Like he is my refuge. My home.
I detail my every concern about Louise and her relationship. Chris listens intently and nods along, only stopping to wave away a waiter who has come to take our order, and when I am done, he takes a deep breath and sucks his teeth.
“Wow,” he says when I am done. “This man sounds like a piece of work. I mean, the fact that he cheated on your friend with your colleague…”
“Yea, it’s heavy but it’s not about me,” I clarify. “Steve didn’t know I worked with Louise when they met. But now I am just really confused about what to do.”
“So this app,” Chris continues, “it’s a dating app? Is that why you are so upset by this?” I nod. “And… what are you doing there?” He raises an eyebrow. I feel heat coming over my face. If I was Caucasian I would probably look like a beetroot.
“I mean… I was bored, my friend said it was fun, I decided to try it out.”
“Hmm,” he rubs his chin and raises a hand to call a waiter over. “I think we should order now before we get to heavier business.”
And so we choose our meals and sip our drinks, and as the waiter walks away to process our requests, I turn back to Chris. “Have you been avoiding me?” I ask bluntly. I have been wanting to ask him all week, and I will not let the chance to get an answer pass now that I have it.
“No…” he starts, but then I narrow my eyes at him. “Well,” he amends, “I haven’t quite been avoiding you…”
“Riiiiggght,” I mock him as our food is finally laid out before us. I dig into my meal with relish – I had no idea I was this hungry – and as soon as my first spoonful is in my mouth, I tent my hands and look at Chris, fully expecting an answer.
“I mean… It’s been complicated. The last time we met I thought I had, well… you know… been inappropriate…”
I nod. “And?”
“And I wanted us to clear the air about that.”
“Is that all? You want me to accept an apology?” I can feel my heart start shattering. I thought today would be the day we would finally decide where we stand. Instead it sounds almost like I am getting a breakup speech.
“Look, Liz,” Chris says, leaning back in his chair and putting his fork down in exasperation. “I don’t want this to be complicated. I am attracted to you. But we have this situation at work. The way you reacted… it almost felt like my attentions were unwanted so I backed off. I don’t want you accusing me of things I do not and have never intended to do. You see the thing is, you can play hard to get with any other man out there, but this-,” he waves a finger between me and him, “-this time, you have to say directly what you do or don’t want. And I will respect your decision.”
I take a deep breath and take his hand reassuringly. This is the most awkward conversation I have ever had – but I recognise that it is the right conversation to have.
“I just need to know,” I say, “are you asking me if I want to explore a relationship with you?
“Yes,” he says definitively. “Liz I have been attracted to you and fallen for you over the years. And before, when I was separated rather than divorced, it made sense for you to be cautious. And then I moved countries… I thought I was over you but then I came back and it was like the feelings had never changed. And now I am single, a single father, and here I am, saying Liz, I want you in my life. For good, hopefully.”
My heart is beating fast. My laden fork has stopped midway between my mouth and my plate. These are all the words I have been waiting to hear for the last lord-knows-how-many-years... and here they are! But I am not sure why I cannot say yes yet.
“Well…” I start, not quite sure where I am heading with what I am about to say. But sure that once I start speaking, the words will come.