By the time Richard came over—nearly 7 o’clock, and he’d been at work by half 7 that morning, if you recall—the lamb was browned, the fruit and veg was prepared, and all that was left to do was let it simmer until Richard had showered and changed (yes, I keep a couple of sets of his clothes around, for emergencies; I started doing it while I was preggers). When he came into the kitchen, hair still damp, in the smart-casual attire that was the most relaxed clothing he ever wore, he was sniffing appreciatively.
“Moroccan?” he queried. I shot him a look.
“Egyptian,” I corrected. “It’s something my mum taught me; but yeah, some tagines are Moroccan,” I conceded. While I was conceding, I decided to get the rest of it out of the way. I had to take a deep breath, let it out, and try twice more before I managed to follow the breath with any words, but eventually, what came out after a noisy inhalation of air was something that sounded like, “SorryabouttheotherdayIwasflirtingwiththepharmacistandhedidn’tevencareIguess
IwasjustfeelinginsecureandIdidn’tmeantotakeitoutonyou. Sorry again.” I couldn’t, naturally, just finish on an apology. I tried, I really did, but then I took another breath and, “I’m surprised it affected you the way it did, though; you know I flirt with everyone. I’ve certainly flirted with you before,” flew out of my mouth.
Richard nodded, as he carried the tagine dish over to the table. We would be eating in the kitchen, its round, vaguely 1950’s-style, black-and-white checkerboard table stark against the deep browns and greens and yellows of my everyday dishes and crockery. Come to think of it, the entire kitchen could use a little more colour—it was all black-and-white-and-chrome, with tiny splashes of red here and there—and it didn’t match any of the kitchenware I’d inherited from my mum. There’d be time to concentrate on that later, though. For now, I was focusing on Richard, who, after an unusually long pause, had finally begun to speak.
“You’re right,” he said mildly, once we’d sat down. “You’ve certainly flirted with me before. It wasn’t even the first time you’d put an admirable amount of effort into it,” he said, smiling just a little. “It was, however, the first time you meant it.” Pausing just long enough to let me digest that, he went on. “As your friend, I have to ask you, Anais—what was it about the pharmacist’s disinterest that caused you that level of distress? I’ve never known you to care overmuch what any man thinks of you, and particularly once you begin viewing him in a sexual light.”
That was all true. I had been hitting on Rich in earnest, and it was out of character for me. I supposed I owed him an explanation. I shrugged a little and said, the confusion evident in my voice, “I don’t know. I’ve just felt… out of sorts… since last year.” I sighed. “I just feel… less like myself, than I used to. It comes and goes, some days I’m fine, and other days…?” I looked up from ladling out portions as my voice trailed off. “I really don’t know, Rich. It just hit me the wrong way, and I responded, well, the way I did; I’m sorry my reaction freaked you out.”
Richard was nodding thoughtfully. “Anais,” he said quietly, seriously, and in a way that let me know I wasn’t about to like what he had to say next, “Have you given any thought to talking to someone about what happened? I know you called a rape crisis line,” he said, his tone becoming bitchy and dismissive for those 3 words, “But I rather wonder if speaking to a professional might be the way forward. I don’t suppose you’d entertain the thought, even briefly?”
To my astonishment, I realized I was entertaining the thought. As I reached for my spoon, to take my first bite, I mumbled (I never mumble!) “I don’t know about that, either. But maybe,” and then I shoved a chunk of tender, aromatic meat in my gob and began chewing. Well, I would have chewed it, if it weren’t so perfectly cooked that it practically dissolved in my mouth. Feeling somewhat better, I began to eat with enthusiasm—why go to the trouble of cooking at all, if you’re not going to enjoy the meal?—but after a few minutes of quiet mastication, Richard took a sip of wine, cleared his throat, and said my name in the same serious, you’re-not-gonna-like-this tone he’d been using moments earlier.
I looked up warily, and waited. When my eyes were on his, Richard gave me his most sympathetic, condoling look; and then he grinned and said, in his camp, ironic, super-gay voice, “You don’t seem like the sort of girl who can cook, but this is absolutely fabulous. Let’s swap recipes, shall we?” and tittered in the gayest fashion imaginable. I was so relived we’d done with the sombre discussion portion of the evening, I actually giggled, and we spent the rest of the meal with Richard lisping along, and doing random, mostly scathing, impressions of celebrity chefs.
I let myself get tipsy, and laughed a lot more than I normally would out of the sheer relief of having my best friend back (who knew I’d come to depend on Richard so much, over the previous year?) but the whole time, I was aware of his suggestion running through the back of my mind. I didn’t want to admit it, but he was probably right; I had to consider the possibility, at least, that I didn’t need a boyfriend. Instead, I needed a shrink.