The Kings and Queens of Cork Street

Told from the back to the front, this is the story of Allen and Petra and what on earth happened to Allen's ribs and how he came to deserve it.

Petra seemed somehow surprised to see him.

The waitstaff, abuzz with hushed activity, watched warily as he swept by the hostess and into the dim dining room. He didn't pause to search the tables; he had spotted her by the window from the cab, and they locked eyes now as he made his entrance. He was heartened to see that a place had been set for him.

"I'm so glad you changed your mind," he sighed, untying his damp scarf and sliding into the booth opposite her. He moved the menu aside gingerly and leaned across the table, resting his hands before him. She did not reach for them.

A flustered waiter approached the table. Petra caught him in her periphery, lifted her hand only an inch from the table, and shook her head quickly, like a rattle. The waiter retreated.

"How did you know I could hear you?" He spoke quickly and with giddy exuberance. His smile was warm and contented, his eyes alight and focused on hers.

Her brow furrowed.

"I mean, what made you so certain I'd be here? I've been over it and over it. You couldn't have known I'd get back to the studio today. I didn't know that myself. So," his eyes danced with intrigue, "tell me, you wicked thing! How did you know I'd hear your 'phone call' from downstairs? Hell, even I almost thought there was someone on the line! That's how well you carried it off. Too well, nearly. Then again," he grinned widely, "perhaps you just thought you'd take your chances."

He chuckled at this, then winced in pain.

"The ribs," he explained apologetically. "I got lucky, that's for damn sure. But these bruised ribs." He waved his hand cheerfully. "Never mind."

Petra took a deep breath and let it out very slowly. At last, her tired gaze left Allen's face and traveled the perimeter of the restaurant. She turned back to him, bit her lip for a moment, then spoke. "You did go to the hospital."

"Yesyesyes. Of course. No lasting harm." For an instant, his bright expression faltered. "Although he will of course have to be dealt with. I'm not looking forward to that, but I don't like the idea of him coming near you. Not with a temper like his."

She squared her shoulders slightly, indignant. "You know he's never so much as raised his voice to me," she told him.

"And now he won't see the opportunity." The words were spoken slowly, his tone intimate and soothing. "This was the right decision, Petra. What we have—"

Another quick shake of her head, this time for him. He searched her face but found little of what he was looking for, only a trace of regret in her pursed lips. Her gaze had left him and now rested outside the window, on the wet street outside.

His hand had found her dinner napkin, and he nervously pinched the corner of it, the tip of his index finger flicking back and forth. He cleared his throat and pressed the napkin into the table.

His voice struggled now to find the lilt and cheer with which it had begun. "Surely, Petra, you aren't thinking of going back..."

Suddenly attentive, she reached for her purse. "Please go," she hissed. But he didn't understand, and he leaned in closer, and looked quite lost and wounded, and opened his mouth to ask what had changed, why she had invited him here in the first place, what she meant now by trying to get rid of him, and whether she had really thought through her decision to stay with her husband.

Before he could decide which question to ask first, he was lifted out of the booth by the shoulders of his jacket.

The End

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