Today is the day, Alex thought to himself.
From behind the bar he could see the girls from the Bachelorette party, starting their evening at his pub, still throwing glances in his direction and giggling. One of them had slipped her number to him with a ten pound note. How crass, he’d thought to himself, throwing it under the bar with the many other’s him and the other bartenders working their collected over that month. At the end of the month, they’d all sit around; him, Johnny, Nick, Hans, Lyla and Eve, and call the numbers from the tub. It was a childish evening of prank calls and shots but it had become a ritual and he wouldn’t swap it for anything else in the world. They’d all stand around the bend of the bar and try and remember who the number had been given to, at the end of the night the person who had ‘got the most numbers’ was allowed to pick any number, boy or girl, for each friend to call up and ask on a serious date, it was usually Hans.
The tall Scandinavian man in question passed behind Alex carrying a large crate of empty green bottles, nudging his shoulder as he did so, giving him a wink and a nod towards the group of women before flashing his bright white smile and carrying on to the back door.
Today, Alex repeated in his head, today is the day I call Kate Dawes.
He looked up at the large vintage clock on the wall above the front door before deciding to take his break ten minutes early. Heading towards the back area, he tapped Eve lightly on the shoulder, indicating his break silently as she pulled two large pints of Guinness whilst nodding in acknowledgement.
There was a stack of three empty bottle crates just by the back door, used mostly as a perch for the smokers amongst the small group of colleagues, where he now rested himself, looking down at his phone’s lock-screen in silence. Why was it so hard?
The four letters for some reason he was dreading.
His finger hovered over the small green image. And then down.
“Kate…”, was all Alex managed.
“Alex.” Her reply was short, her voice, tight.
“Are,” he faltered, “are you okay?”
“I’m just sick of people telling what to do now that David’s gone.” Alex was surprised at her matter of fact tone, like she was too exhausted to be emotional.
“Would you like to go for a drink? I think I have some apologising to do.”
“Okay well, how about my pub tomorrow at three before we open?”
“Sounds good to me.” Kate finished.
“I’ll see you then…” Alex sighed. As the phone call ended, Alex let out a shaky breath. Kate was so different. So terrifyingly different now.
Before, she would laugh at everything, anything but sometimes not catch onto the joke quick enough. Her most endearing quality, Alex thought. Her smile would stretch what seemed like the entire span on her face. It was a wide smile, open and full lipped. Alex let out a sigh, shaking his head, causing the image in his mind to blur and ripple away. Looking down at his watch he saw he had enough time left of his break to go for a walk. Go for a cigarette. Go for a breath of…tarred air. It would do. Stretching his legs up and out, he left out a shaky breath, his hand shaking as well as he reached into his hoodie pocket for the packet of cigarettes. Taking on out and lighting it, he took a long breath in, then let it out. As he continued to walk down the small backstreet of North London, he looked down at the glowing ember of tobacco and filter paper.
David wouldn’t want this.
For David, he thought, as he flicked the almost full cigarette out onto the empty road to his left.
Signalling a new beginning.
It took no time at all and felt close to insignificant in the short space of the few seconds; lighting up and fizzling out.
But it was a start, and maybe, just maybe, Kate would appreciate it.
At least Alex thought it would. The books his Mum read to him as a child had given him the need, the want for big romantic gestures. Mr. Darcy in the rain. Alex McGuire with the unfinished cigarette.
Not far away, at the bus stop down the road from her flat, Kate picked at a paint stain on the skirt of her yellow dress. It was blue, from when David and her had been painting the bathroom. A leaf blew gently over her shoe and she smiled. The baby in the pushchair next to her gurgled. She wondered if she would ever have children, or would ever have had children with David. She hadn’t thought about it before but would she re-marry? Fall in love again? Even if she did, she knew she’d never fall in the love the same way. Not in that tumbling, hopelessly perfect way she had before. She was young but she hadn’t been foolish. She was adamant that David was the one person she would have been able to spend the rest of her life with, but, now that she thought about it. It changed. It morphed into something ugly and terrifying. What if now, months after David’s death, the James Dean effect had already kicked in. No, she was sure of it, David was perfect, they were perfect, and she had friends and (a few) members of family to confirm it. Yet, it still lingered in her mind that perhaps they weren’t perfect.
“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, David,” Kate had declared, flustered, angry and tired, “It’s been a long day, my boss still hates, I’m still working the shit end job I got when I graduated and frankly, it’s not like your mother wants me there anyway.” It was David’s parent’s silver wedding anniversary. Kate knew that David hardly ever saw his father, as he was usually across the ocean betting on stocks or whatever he did, but for once he was back in England for his and Celia’s anniversary. In hindsight, Kate realised, that it probably wouldn’t have been the worst event in the world, considering George, David’s dad, was one of the nicer member’s of the Dawes family, despite his wife being frankly insufferable. At the time though, after a awful and long day at work, the last thing she wanted to do was to drive down to Winchester to see Celia Dawes in all her hideous glory.
“I don’t understand what you have against my mother!” David almost roared back, clearly exasperated, running his hands through and through his hair; something he always did when he was angry, stressed or anxious.
“David.” Kate calmly turned on him, her voice level. The quietness shook him more than her outward aggression.
“Kate, please. It’s just one day. We drive down tonight, stay at the hotel, that might I mention is already paid for, go to the lunch, do the rounds then leave. It’ll be painless. Like ripping a plaster off.” He pleaded.
“I’m not going.” Kate flatly replied, “By all means go by yourself, but there is no way, I am leaving this flat tonight.”
David said nothing for a while. Remembered looking over her shoulder at him, the look on his face, cracking her heart slightly. But still, she would not budge.
“Fine.” He had quietly muttered, picking up the duffel bag he’d packed for himself, before turning towards the door and leaving.
As Kate sat at the bus stop in silence, she imagined what it would have been like if that was the evening the Ferrari had struck. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
“Are you okay?” The mother with the baby in the pram asked, placing a soft hand delicately on her shoulder. All Kate could do was turn to the woman, smile weakly, nod, then stand and walk slowly back towards her, and David’s, home.