Winter Of Love

Entry by: Wren

25th November 2016
Graeme was pleased with his choice of restaurant. The subdued lighting, quiet music and whispering waiters created just the right atmosphere for what he wanted to say to Susan. What’s more, the weather had played its part by dusting the streets in a crisp layer of fresh snow. As they sipped their wine, he rehearsed the little speech he had prepared, only half-listening to her as she recounted her latest crisis at work:

“…so the snow delayed my taxi and I was 20 minutes late for the monthly sales meeting…”

The thing was, Susan was always talking about her work:

“…and the lift was broken, so I had to climb three flights – I was gasping for breath by the time I got into the meeting…”

Graeme’s attention drifted to a young man, similar in age to himself, sitting at the next table. He was clearly waiting for someone to join him. Graeme hoped they weren’t sitting too close as he didn’t want to be overheard. The moment would be ruined by someone sniggering or bursting into applause.

“…Gerald looked annoyed because he was on a tight schedule and David was smiling like a Cheshire cat – ‘We’re on Item 3 dear’ he says to me, the condescending prick!”

When the waiter arrived, Susan announced that she only wanted one course as she had to make an early start. The meal arrived quickly and they were just tucking in when the door of the restaurant flew open with a bang, allowing in a flurry of snowflakes. A striking girl with spiky red hair and wearing a bright yellow overcoat marched down the restaurant toward the man at the next table. Despite the wintry weather, she was wearing high heels, which clicked harshly across the tiled floor. As she slumped into her chair without removing her coat, Graeme noticed that the heavy make-up around her eyes was smudged, as if she had been crying.

“Christ,” said her companion, reaching across the table, “what’s the matter?”

She bit her lip and looked around before whispering, “I’m late!”

The boyfriend checked his watch, “Only 10 minutes,“ he said, “it’s cool!”

“No you idiot!” she hissed, “my period’s late!”

The blood drained from the boyfriend’s face, but before he could speak again, a waiter arrived to take the girl’s coat.

“Bring me a large bloody Mary,” she said in a loud voice “Christ knows I need it!”

At the other table Graeme raised his eyebrows at Susan, but she was too busy scrolling through emails on her Blackberry to notice the unfolding drama.

The boyfriend rallied, “Look, that’s not… you know…definitive, is it?”

The waiter arrived with the Bloody Mary and she took a healthy slug.

“I bought a test on the way here,“ she whispered “but I’m pretty sure. What should we do?”

The boyfriend looked at her aghast, “I don’t know…you really should take some time to think things over.”

“Oh, I should, should I?” she shot back.

He tried to retrieve the situations. “Well, we should…obviously… that is…” he paused, “Look, you’re sure it’s mine, right?”

“Oh great!” she said “you’re trying to weasel out of it already.”

“Well,” he pleaded, “we’ve only been dating a few weeks, haven’t we?”

The girl took another gulp of her drink, pointed at the boyfriend and said, ”Don’t move a muscle.” Before picking up her handbag and heading for the toilet.

Graeme and Susan were finishing their meal by now. Graeme was reflecting that this really wasn’t the atmosphere he had been aiming for. On the other hand, it provided an opportunity to steer the conversation towards responsibility, stability, maybe even family. He reached for the small box in his jacket pocket. But it was Susan who spoke first.

“I’m glad we met tonight, Graeme, there’s something important I want to say to you.”

“Is there?” said Graeme.

“Yes” she said “Look Graeme, you do realise how important my career is to me, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, “I mean, your career, your hobbies, your family and, well, our relationship too I hope? – you deserve it all.”

“Yes Graeme,” she sighed impatiently “but the thing is my career is at a crucial stage. Gerald has told me that he might recommend to the Board that I replace him as Head of Sales when he retires. But it could all slip away from me. I’ve got bloody David is breathing down my neck, for a start and you know Gerald? He’s old school. If he got wind that I might get married, or worse still start a family, that would put the kibosh on things.”

“Would it?” croaked Graeme.

“Yes it would. And I was thinking, well…you’re so kind Graeme, lovely really, but it wouldn’t be fair on you. To keep you hanging on when…well, I’ve no intention of putting things on a permanent footing anytime soon.”

Graeme tried to speak, but Susan ploughed on:

“So, I thought it might be best if we just brought things to a halt, for now… give you the chance to meet other people. You deserve to be happy, Graeme.”

“Do I? “ said Graeme, weakly.

At the next table the boyfriend threw down some money, lifted his jacket from the back of his seat and headed for the door.

“You know,” Susan went on, “I was worried when you invited me to this restaurant tonight. It’s the kind of place where people propose.”

Graeme managed to laugh, “Is it really? I had no idea.” He added, “Nothing could have been further from my mind.”

“Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page.” Said Susan, as if she were straightening something out with a subordinate at work and gave his arm a little squeeze. “You really are very sweet you know? You’ll make someone a great catch one day.”

Graeme gave what he hoped was a wry smile and nodded.

“Well, I think I’ll call it a day,“ said Susan rising from her seat and picking up her briefcase.

“Of course,“ said Graeme, waving a waiter over “I’ll get this, least I could do.”

Susan kissed him on the cheek and walked out into the snow.

Graeme felt a bleak chill descend on him. Instead of getting the bill, he ordered a large Cognac in a vain attempt to raise his spirits. He took out the little box and contemplated the ring. He should have proposed on that weekend in Paris last Spring, he thought to himself. Susan had been giddy with excitement and Gerald hadn’t yet broached the subject of his retirement. Outside, he could see that a sudden thaw had transformed the pristine carpet of white into an ankle-deep churn of grey slush. His dreams of marrying Susan, he realised, were as illusory as the promise of a winter wonderland.

The girl with the red hair returned to her seat. She seemed calmer and had tidied her make-up. She took a sip of her drink and looked over at Graeme, nodding at the empty chair opposite her, “Done a bunk, has he?”

Graeme gave a rueful smile, “I’m afraid so - mine too!”

“God,” she said shaking her head, “relationships are crap!” and threw back the rest of her drink.

“Look - are you okay?” asked Graeme.

The girl’s hand shot to her mouth, “Oh no! Did you hear all that? How embarrassing!” She laughed. “Yeah, turned out to be a false alarm.” And with that, she shrugged and signaled to the waiter for her coat.

On her way out of the door she paused, waived at Graeme and called “See you later!”

Graeme watched her yellow coat disappearing into the sleet. Perhaps he should have asked her out, he mused. Got straight back onto the horse. But it was too late now.