“I love you, son,” she said quietly. Biting his lip and trying to hold in the pain, Rich closed the phone and returned it to the pocket of his jeans, shrugging as though it meant nothing. His train was not due for another half hour so he crossed the wide hall towards a coffee shop, seating himself in one of the high bar stools and ordering a drink. While he waited for it to arrive—the pretty waitress, rather than getting on with mixing the coffee, was trying to catch his eye, despite the way he pointedly ignored her—Rich studied his surroundings.
To the left of the coffee shop there was a WHSmith’s, crowded with early morning commuters buying newspapers and families on day trips stocking up on sweets. Next to that there was a shop selling pasties, a fast food joint and another coffee shop, which was followed by more specialist food stores. On the far right was a Marks & Spencer’s, and in the centre there were various stalls, including one that appeared to sell only ties. Rich smiled slightly.
His coffee finally arrived. As he drank it, he surveyed the people around him. With only one exception, they appeared to be businessmen and women on their way to work. The odd one out was a woman of indeterminate age, although he guessed that she was young, wearing an odd black dress and with her brown hair pulled back into plaits like a young girl from history books.
“Richard,” she said, getting up from her seat and coming towards him, coffee cup in one hand and small bag in the other. “I was told you would be here. Do you mind if I join you?” Completely bewildered, Rich gestured as though to say it was fine by him and taking this as consent, she sat down next to him on one of the high stools.
“Only, please call me Rich,” he said uncomfortably. Nobody called him Richard, not even his parents: the only person he could think of that had ever used it was the headmaster of his primary school when he had tried to blow up the school toilets, and that was only to be expected.
“Rich,” she repeated, nodding. “Yes, I like it. It suits you. Far better than Richard, I must say, because that name has always seemed to me so very … together.” She smiled and her whole face was transfigured, making her seem beautiful. Rich found himself grinning too.
“Who told you I would be here?” he asked curiously, sipping the hot coffee and wishing he had thought to buy a biscuit, seeing as he had not been able to have breakfast. “I’ve never come here before. It’s not, like, a habit or something.” He frowned at her. “And pardon me, but I’ve never actually met you before. I don’t even know your name yet.”
“How dreadfully rude of me,” she said, and held out a hand. “My name is Linda. I’m very pleased to meet you.”