I stared at the second hand as it swept across the azure face of my watch. She was only forty-three seconds late. That was nothing to worry about, surely.
‘Would Sir like to taste the wine?’ The waiter asked, teeth shining bright in the pitiful ‘you’ve been stood up’ fake smile. ‘Or would Sir like to wait for a few minutes?’ I just nodded, staying silent as I pushed my hair back off my forehead. His shiny shoes clip clopped away as I put my head in my hands. Two minutes, fourteen seconds. Something had to have gone wrong. I scrabbled in my pocket for my phone, wishing it to vibrate, to ring, to actively disrupt the enjoyment of the diners around me, from Banker McStarchcollar through to ‘This dress was so much longer on the website.’
But there was nothing. I glared at it, hoping that it would make it flash up with that tiny red circle. But no, it wasn’t meant to be. It mocked me with its silence.
‘Sir, perhaps you are ready for the wine now?’ Shiny Teeth was back. I could feel the corner of the felted box digging into my chest as I reached across the table. Honestly, this stripling was barely old enough to shave and he was bringing wine across and showering me with pity. My watch reflected the half-burnt candle, as it passed quarter past nine. Five minutes, thirty eight seconds.
‘Yes. Yes please.’ I blurted. The burgundy liquid flowed easily into my glass as I tapped my watch. Perhaps there was something wrong with it? Yvonne had looked at me funny when I was the first one into the meeting today. Though she might have seen the box, I’d just been tucking it into my pocket as I wandered in.
Eight minutes now. My watch can’t have been that wrong, surely? She had to be late now. Maybe she’d forgotten, and her phone was out of battery? Or her car had died, perhaps. No, she was coming by bus, she’d told him on the phone,when she’d just got home from work. She’d said that she was just putting her phone on charge.
What if something had happened to her? She could have been mugged, or kidnapped, or in an accident? Maybe she was being held hostage by a disgruntled ex-bomb squad policeman on a bus that couldn’t go under 50 miles an hour or it would explode?
Wait, that’s the plot to the film Speed. Probably not that.
Twelve minutes gone now. Why hasn’t she phoned, or text, or anything? I’ll take smoke signals, a courier, even a message from the spirit world. That napkin just moved on its own… No messages from the spirit world please. The box in my breast pocket feels heavier then ever, weighing me down with worry. Could be a wasted £1200…
She’s just walked in. Fifteen minutes late.
‘Hey sweetie,’ She leans in and kisses me on the cheek, her raven hair brushing my skin and setting the butterflies free from the pit in my stomach. ‘The bus had to go around some kind of protest on King’s Lane. I tried to call, but your phone was going straight to voicemail.’ Her voice was like honey on my ears. Fifteen minutes is a long time when you’re waiting for the woman you love so that you can ask her to be your wife. ‘You weren’t worried were you?’
‘Me, no. No no no…’ I shook my head vigorously before checking my phone again.
I’m such an idiot. I’d turned airplane mode on when I came in the restaurant to make sure that nobody could interrupt me.
‘So, what’s the big occasion? We only ever go to Romano’s when it’s something good.’ She smiled at me. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than that smile. It could bring spring to an eternal winter.
‘It can wait until after.’ I poured her a glass of wine. This was going to be easy. I don’t know why I let myself get so worked up. ‘Shall we order?’
The Idiot in Tin Foil