As I stir my coffee, I
rehearse my lines. I'd asked for an extra shot. Maybe
that will keep me more focused. The trouble is I have to
sweeten it to cover the bitterness. I'll keep it
factual. It's a public place; he can't cause a scene
here. Can he? I'm fifteen minutes early. This gives me
time to gather my thoughts. As I wrestle with the second
sugar sachet, my eyes are drawn to the opening cafe
door. His face is temporarily obscured by the huge
bouquet. Oh damn, this isn't going to be easy.
"You look gorgeous. I
love the fact that we both like to be early."
He is in full-frontal
complimentary mode as he thrusts the floral tribute in
my direction and tries to follow through with a kiss. I
turn my head and offer my cheek to be pecked.
"That's a great colour
Is he referring to my
chewing-gum white tee-shirt, scuffed trainers or faded
"I love it when you
have your hair tied back. It really shows off your
features. I'm amazed you haven't been snatched up by a
"Look, we need to
talk." My fingers fiddle with the elastic band in my
hair and I avoid eye contact.
"I know. There's so
much to discuss. I'll just get myself a coffee. Up for a
He doesn't wait for a
While he is at the
counter I close my eyes and remind myself what I have to
"You look like you
He laughs, then
carries on. "Wasn't sure what you wanted to eat so I
bought us a selection," as he places the laden tray down
onto the table.
I now have two
bladder-defying lattes in front of me with accompanying
cakes and pastries. Fortunately, dieting is not my top
priority. He is grinning at me in his most 'love me,
love me' way. How had I found that endearing just a few
"Robert, I need to be
honest with you…"
He does not allow me
wonderful thing about you, your honesty. That's why I
love spending time with you. We connect, Rach."
Having my name
shortened to rhyme with the eighth letter of the
alphabet is just one notch below fingernails scratching
a chalkboard. He pulls out a pile of glossy holiday
"I know you're busy at
work. That's why you haven't been able to return my
calls. I figured we could get away for a week or two,
have some 'us' time."
I am not able to mask
my horror at this suggestion. He looks as if I'd slapped
"Perhaps a mini-break.
Your choice. I was thinking you'd like…"
"Robert, listen to me.
You're a very sweet man. But there is no 'us', no 'we'.
It just hasn't worked out."
He gazes at me as if I
have just begun to talk in a foreign language. He shows
no glimmer of recognition in the words I am saying.
There is a long pause, while his brain registers what
I've just said out loud. His lower lip begins to wobble.
The humane part of me wants to reach across the table,
but my rational self makes me sit on my hands even when
his coffee becomes in danger of being diluted by his
free flowing tears. I know it's sexist of me, but I
can't help it. I can't bear to watch a man cry. I hand
him a tissue from my handbag. I consider walking out;
leaving him. But that strikes me as callous. Yes, I
would be free but I would be haunted by the image of
this broken man, whom I had caused such pain. It takes a
few minutes for him to be able to speak.
"But I don't
understand. Things are so good between us."
He fixes me with his
puppy dog eyes.
"Robert we only met a
few weeks ago through a dating site. We've been out for
a drink. We saw a film together and we had lunch in a
He takes out a
notebook from his inside jacket pocket and reads aloud
from it, "You're forgetting our shopping trip on the
"But we just bumped
into each other last Saturday in…"
It slowly dawned on me
that this chance meeting was far from accidental.
"We just need to give
it longer, get to know each other better. You're very
stressed at work and…"
I interrupt him with
what I should have said at the beginning.
"This is not what I
People from other
tables look round. I am past caring about temporary
embarrassment. I'm pleased with myself for saying this.
There is a pause. He
can't look at me. At least, he's stopped sobbing. Robert
looks up with a hopeful expression, "I think we should
go for couples' counselling."
In a controlled voice
that I dredge up from my recent assertiveness training
course, I respond slowly, "We are not a couple, Robert.
I'm sorry things have not worked out."
"It's me, isn't it
Rach? I can change, just tell me. I'll do anything you
I know the game he's
playing now. I'm meant to say that it's not him and
that it's my fault. I
shall not apologise.
"I'm leaving now,