They sat together at a small table with large cups of coffee on the table in front of them. He wasn’t a big coffee drinker; the cups were big, like soup bowls. He opened a sachet of sugar and emptied it into his drink.
She drank black coffee, no sugar. She’d often tell him that sugar wasn’t good for you, but always in that kindly, gentle manner she had. He focused on stirring before stealing a glance across the table at her. The dark curls of her hair, black and shining in the shaded lighting of the coffee shop, cascaded over her shoulders, a wisp of it brushing over her forehead. She was also occupied, deep in thought, and he took the opportunity to study her. She had a fine, pale complexion, a few freckles scattered over her nose and cheeks. The first time he’d seen her in that small room, he’d been captivated. He felt as if all the air in his body had momentarily left him and he was falling, falling, exhilarated and dizzy. She was gorgeous.
Of course, almost immediately, he realised that she would be unattainable; he felt as if he was looking in through a glass window, realising that something of such great beauty could never be possessed. Over the past few months, as he got to know her better, he imagined her one day meeting somebody a few years older than she was, no doubt successful and wealthy, who would naturally be able to care for somebody as attractive and loving as she undoubtedly was, it became clear that her allure was more than skin deep.
He made the decision that, however much he was attracted to her he wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of several other young men, some of them his friends, who tried their best to woo her. A couple of them managed to invite her for dinner or to the cinema, but however much they tried to impress her, they inevitably failed in their quest to make her their lover.
So he kept his deepest feelings to himself and she liked to be in his company and that of his flat mates. She’d often come and stay at the musty, first floor student digs he shared with three others, two girls and another boy. She laughed at their jokes, joined in with their silly games and became part of their group.
Of course, this had meant being nonchalant enough to invite her over in the first place, but she’d happily accepted. The others in the flat liked her immediately and began to ask her back as well.
He would spend hours in the flat talking to her, sharing stories and jokes and thoughts about the world. When it came to bed time, he would say a cheery goodnight before lying awake, thinking of her in the room next door. In the morning, he would bring her a cup of coffee in bed and try his best not to stare as she sat up in bed, the duvet tucked around her, her smooth, pale shoulders on show, betraying her nakedness beneath the covers, making his heart beat a little faster.
He found himself thinking more and more about her. Every evening, he would make his way to the student bar on the off chance she would drop in. Incredibly, just as his hopes started to fade, she would appear through the door, give him a cheery wave and come and sit by him.
Now she’d introduced him to the coffee house. It was a bit of a treat, where they would order coffees and a plate of chips to share. She told him of her trip to Amsterdam, where she’d discovered the habit of eating chips with mayonnaise. However, her own particular preference was to sprinkle the chips liberally with Worcestershire Sauce.
It was Mike, the coffee shop proprietor, who brought him back from his reverie by placing a plate of these shared chips between them on the table. She gave Mike one of her wide smiles and brushed the wisp of ebony hair away from her deep blue eyes. Many people told her that her eyes were her best feature. Her gaze could be all consuming, mesmeric, hypnotising. He sighed inwardly as she looked at him and gave him a smile too.
She wore very little make up, she didn’t need to. A couple of times, he’d seen her about to go out on a date wearing some, asking him: Do I look alright? This made it one of the most difficult times for keeping his emotions in check. The very sight of her and the fact she’d made herself up for somebody else made it feel like he was a glass vessel about to shatter into a thousand pieces, but he did manage a Yes. You look fine.
She took hold of the Worcestershire Sauce bottle and shook a liberal amount of the spicy liquid over the steaming chips.
She held one between her fingers before a small frown passed across her forehead.
“What are you doing this Saturday?” she asked.
He thought for a moment. He liked to spend Saturdays watching sport on the TV and taking a trip to the local pub. This coming weekend would be pretty much the same.
“Not much,” he replied, “what about you?”
She brought the chip to her lips and chewed thoughtfully.
“I’ve been invited to Charlie’s party, but I haven’t got anybody to go with,” she explained.
Charlie was an older student who lived near to where she came from in the West Country. He had a house in Brighton, played in a band and threw some wild parties, by all accounts.
He looked at her for a moment, wondering how to pitch his reply.
“I would go with you anywhere, I think you’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, I love you. I dream of you being mine, to spend all my time with you, to make you happy and spend my life with you, because you are beautiful inside and out.”
Is what he wanted to say.
Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and tutted.
“Did you have anybody in mind?” he asked.
She lowered her head and looked at him through her long, dark eyelashes.
“Would you come with me?”
He counted in his head, one, two, three. Don’t sound too keen, too desperate.
“Well, I don’t have any other plans. Sure, if you want me to.”
She shifted in her chair, then stood up and gave him a hug, her smooth cheek touching his bristled, unshaven face. Once more he felt his insides melt and the breath leave his body in the ecstasy of the moment.
“Thank you,” she purred, her voice deep and sultry.
With that, she went back to eating the chips and telling him about the small holding where she lived with her parents and three younger brothers.
“You’ll have to come and visit one day,” she said brightly.
He gazed at her, the dimples in her cheeks as she smiled, her small hands touching her necklace, aware of his attentions.
He smiled back.
“I’d like that very much,” he said.
34 years have passed since this couple sat in the coffee shop. She returned to the small holding, to her parents and her brothers.
The boy sitting with her made his visit as promised. Of course, she wouldn’t have had any trouble getting somebody to take her to Charlie’s party, with a stream of male admirers. Going back to the flat and showing up in the student bar was no coincidence.
She chose him.
Thirty years ago they emerged from a small church that could be seen from that small holding, man and wife. They have two wonderful children, now adults themselves and live in a pleasant rural village, near to where they wed.
The boy’s dream came true and even though her dark curls are now a different colour and his hair is greying, she still has her beautiful skin and amazing eyes and is still an incredible person.
And he still loves and cherishes her as much as he did when he watched her eat her chips with Worcestershire Sauce in the coffee shop.
And he always will.