Pre-flight checks, as he likes to call them, are complete. Petrol – check. Oil – check. Windscreen washer – check. Where is she? Rain starts to fall, landing on the windscreen in fat, heavy splots. He turns on the ignition to activate the wipers. Perhaps he should drive up to the office door so that she would not get wet. But that would mean parking on the yellow hatching. And that is not allowed. If she doesn’t hurry up, they will be late. He turns up the blower to clear away the condensation.
His phone in the cradle suctioned to the windscreen murmurs twice. “Harrington on war path. Be 5 minutes”. Doesn’t Harrington realise how long he’s waited for this day! Big Boss Harrington should pick his moments better. His phone murmurs again. “Harrington on war …” Yes, I know, he shouts, stabbing the phone’s Off button. She’ll be here shortly. Calm yourself.
It was a miracle, really, that HR decided, as team leaders, they should both be sent on the same course. Five consecutive weeks, Wednesday afternoons, 2 pm to 5 pm. Complimentary refreshments. GDPR : Safeguarding Personal Data in an Uncertain Brexit. Whatever that means.
There’s a flurry of activity outside the passenger door. Here she is. She folds down her umbrella and shakes it. He leans to the side to open the door and she throws her umbrella onto the back seat. He worries about water marks on the pale leather but decides not to say anything about it just now.
“Nice day for it!”
“For this course.”
“You’re bleedin’ joking, aren’t you! Look at the state of me shoes. And me tights.” He tries hard not to ogle her outstretched legs. To him, they look beautiful. “And what’s it all about, anyway? Not exactly a laugh a minute. Bet I doze off half way through. You’ll have to nudge me awake, if I do.” He plays with the thought of nudging her awake and smiles quietly to himself.
“Put your belt on and we can get going.”
He drives slowly from the car park and joins the stream of traffic out of town. She leans forward and turns the radio on. The classical station is playing Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. She presses a sequence of buttons with increasing impatience until she finds the local commercial radio. He doesn’t recognise the song and, anyway, the presenter is talking over the ending.
“Next up, is Bruce Hornsby and ‘That’s the Way It is’”.
He starts to sing, ‘That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.’
She’s looking at him as if he’s weird. He wishes he could turn to face her, to catch and hold her eyes within his. But there’s a lot of traffic on the road so he focusses ahead. “What are you staring at?” She shrugs and crosses her legs.
He’s almost on the point of saying out loud, “Christmas Party. Six months ago. LAX nightclub.” She had, literally, fallen into him. Literally! No denying it! They’d been walking along that long, dark, underground corridor, the beat from the dance floor above resonating inside the exposed pipework. Occasional bulkhead lights lit their way along the sticky floor. “Swear me drink’s been spiked”, she’d shouted into his ear. Then she’d tripped, sort of twisted on her high heels and he’d grabbed her by the elbow to save her from injury and she’d kind of gyrated in his grip like a rag doll coming up to face him full on. Her face was inches away. Inches away! Then she’d kissed him. It was a proper kiss. He counts the beats in his head now, in time to Bruce Hornsby. One. Two. Three. Three seconds. She had tasted sweet.
No way can he ask her now if she remembers. Because he knows what the answer would be – quick, sassy, funny, sarcastic, an unputdownable put-down.
They are driving out of town past the cemetery and the double glazing place. Every Easter on the opposite side of the road there’s a bunch of gaudy plastic flowers halfway up the lamppost, as if they had wafted there from the cemetery, tied fast to prevent them from being blown away. She is dividing her attention between her mobile and the billboards forming a barricade between the road and the housing estate.
“Slow down. Slow down!”, she commands. He checks the mirror and cautiously applies the brakes.
“Prosecco special offer Lidl. Gonna Snapchat our Maureen tell her get some.” Her speech is economical, truncated, text-like.
He sighs. They have thirteen minutes to get there, parked and into the venue and sat down. He does not want to be late.
Is she even listening to the radio? He suspects not. Annoying, especially as it’s never straightforward getting back to station you want once someone’s been fiddling.
“Ed Sheeran’s up next”, announces the DJ.
In his mind, he’s back at the nightclub that night six months ago. She was tottering back up the corridor, bouncing against the walls, cursing under her breath.
She sat at a table crowded with the guys from Packing and Distribution, her long beads falling into a pool on the table top in front of her, sucking up a technicolour cocktail through a straw. Possibly she was no longer concerned about her drink being spiked.
She was wild, flirtatious, indiscriminate. Lush.
They arrive with two and a half minutes to spare and are soon sat at their desks with their lanyards and complimentary bottled water and pencils.
She is making no effort to look engaged or interested. He is already looking forward to the drive home.
This time next week takes an unaccountably long time to arrive but he is prepared. He has a plan.
She gets in the car. It’s not raining today. They greet each other. He already has the radio tuned to her station of choice. He is not encouraging conversation. Even though it’s only the adverts – for a holiday camp, an eaterie, car showroom – he doesn’t want her gabbling. He wants her to listen.
The adverts stop. Maybe it’s now. He was very specific about timing. They really only have a ten minute window. If he can’t tell her, then maybe Don Henley can.
Nobody on the road
If only that were true, he grumbles, waving his arm at a lunatic driver cutting in front.
Nobody on the beach
He glances across at her. This next bit’s important. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel. Listen up, girl.
But I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
The track finishes and she is evidently unconcerned. This needs fine-tuning. He’s pleased at the unintended pun. Perhaps next week he should be bold enough to ask for a dedication.
The following Wednesday, as he negotiates the many roundabouts of the industrial estate, loud and clear, right on time and on the button, Paul Tyler ‘off of Offa FM’, gives a massive big shout-out for Liam and Carrie, work colleagues, travelling together to a course as they have been for the past two Wednesdays. Listen up, Carrie, as Liam has got something very important to tell you. Heeere’s Eric Carmen from Dirty Dancing with those Huuuungry Eyes.
He stabs the radio off. What’s the point? The seat beside him is empty. No show Carrie. Just a lazy text, ‘CBA today soz’.
“Is your colleague not with you today”, the course facilitator asks cheerily.
“Where were you last week?”, as she slides into the car.
“Oh, you know, just needed one of those duvet days.”
He has to bite down hard on the jealous thoughts that flood into his head. Should he tell her he has a surprise for her? Or wait for it to reveal itself? No point telling her about last week’s dedication. The moment has gone. Maybe this week Marvin Gaye will get through to her with a little help from Paul Tyler ‘off of Offa FM’.
His heart is beating faster and faster in readiness. His hands feel clammy on the steering wheel. His vision is murky.
Paul’s voice comes over the radio. “Now, if you are a regular listener to my afternoon show, you might have heard that there is a bit of a lurve situation developing. For the past few weeks, a certain gentlemen has asked us to play a different song as a sort of declaration of his feelings …”
“Loada crap!” She presses a random button.
“I was listening to that! And you need to too.” But she isn’t listening. She has her arms folded and is staring fixedly out of the side window. She might be crying.
“What’s the matter?”
They complete the journey in silence, with the exception of static hissing from the car’s speakers.
He is relieved, in the final week of the course, that he is not obliged to pick a song for their journey. She is much cheered in comparison to last week. As is he, because Gloria who manages the switchboard and the enquiries desk of Offa FM has agreed to meet up for a drink, possibly some time next week.