Disclaimers: This work is all mine. All. Mine. Well, maybe it … nope. I'm sticking with it belonging to me. This work is all … or is it ? Am I doing a Shakespeare and passing it off as mine but it is, in actuality, an oral tale passed around and down from generation to generation, country to country, so on and so forth and ad lib to fade?
Okay. Let me start again.
Disclaimers: This story may include ladies who like ladies; ladies who lurve ladies; ladies who want to do the fancy dance with other ladies; swearing for no apparent reason; the metaphorical use of genitalia and embarrassing medical conditions – a given (if you ask me); the suspension of disbelief; the letter e, and also a few others; the pulling down of the fourth wall; purple prose with a hint of pink; reference to food; and, more importantly, a partridge in a pear tree.
Oh yes. This was supposed to be finished before Christmas but I became all distracted by the fairy lights, tinsel and sparky baubles.
If you like this, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org . If you didn't like it then … erm?
Also, if you want to check out my published works, you can find me on Amazon, Ylva, other places, too (the front of the queue when there's chocolate. FACT!)
Belated Christmas wishes and all the best for 2017 x
By LT Smith 2017 aka Fingersmith
Two days before the big day and I was knackered. Panic buying had kick started in the early hours of the morning, robbing me of sleep and the ability to choose appropriate gifts due to having a head full of sheep waiting to be counted. Thankfully, the only thing I could actually do at that time in the morning, and two days before Christmas, was to place the aforementioned inappropriate gifts on hold until I could get my backside to each store to pick them up. Or not pick them up, which, according the items I'd selected, would be the best idea. Buying my brother-in-law, whose weight had been a factor for a while, a digital nutrition scale had seemed like a brilliant idea at two thirty in the morning, but in the light of day, not so much. He would have taken it as a personal insult to his physique and not an act of thoughtfulness as I'd intended. I may just as well have written “Cut out eating all that shit and drinking dirty beer. Eat veg you fat bastard!” on the gift tag and coupled his scales with a Nutribullet.
I had also had to cancel the anti-ageing cream purchased for my sister, even if it was Clarins and expensive and included three free samples. I preferred my front teeth exactly where they were and not half way down my throat where they would more than likely end up if I had presented my sis with products that advertised her maturing skin. Personally, I thought she looked beautiful and had only considered the cream because I knew she was always banging on about her “wrinkles”. However, I'd learned the hard way that it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to mention her own wrinkles but not so acceptable for others to point them out. Trust me on this one. Experience talking here.
Christmas had never been my favourite time of the year. It was full of consumerism and greed and screaming kids in stores and screaming kids out of stores. I'd wanted to skip the season of goodwill completely and hole up in my flat ignoring the phone, the door, and anything and everyone who would come about with Christmas cheer and an expectation of a mince pie and a glass of something warm and spiced. No decorations dangled in twinkling glory from anywhere in my home, no tree stood pride of place with an angel adorning it, the sharp spike of the pinnacle of that Nordmann Fir rammed up her …
“And how are we today?” A young male voice sounded from the side of me, my head jerking upwards.
The room was full of people, of noise, of laughter. The colours were warm, festive, inviting. And to top it all off, initially, I had no clue where I was.
“Do you need more time?”
My attention went to where the young male voice came from, and I was right. The young male voice came from a young male. I should work for Scotland Yard.
“If you are offering more time before Christmas, then yes.” I honestly thought I was being witty, but I failed to recognise the fact that most people thought the opposite.
The young waiter scrunched his face slightly and tried to smile in order to reassure me that I wasn't a dick, but, alas, he wasn't pulling it off – and by that I meant pulling off the face not the di …
“Would you like to order?” His smile had shifted to slightly unnerved with a dash of concern for his welfare and I had to question the resilience of the youth of today.
“Can you please give me a few more minutes, erm …” I paused, tipped my head in question and waited for the waiter to introduce himself, something it took him a few seconds to catch on to.
“Jace.” He pointed to his name badge where he must've been the one who had written his name on the plastic shape. Jace must've also been the one to decorate the badge with a badly drawn sprig of mistletoe, mistletoe that had the uncanny appearance of haemorrhoids. I knew for a fact I would not be kissing anyone under that image, Christmas cheer or not. I would rather be known as the Grinch for eternity than pucker my lips for that.
“Jace. Thank you.” I gestured to the menu once again noting the name Caf é Rouge on the top, the memory of stumbling in as a reprieve from the advent of shoppers flooding me. “Glass of Sauvignon blanc to start please. A large one.” I heard him scribble onto his pad, then cross something out, and scribble again. “And then a few minutes to decide what to eat, if you don't mind.”
Jace realised I had dismissed him after what appeared to be an age and a fair bit of staring. Then he blushed and scuttled away to leave me to ponder over starters of soupe a l' oignon or soupe au pistou – not the most exciting choice, soup or soup, but one I was taking exceptionally seriously.
“Excuse me.” My finger stopped its journey down the menu, holding still at Risotto Vert but itching to move to Poulet Breton, but the sound of the voice asking to be excused had held my finger fast.
“I'm sorry to disturb you.”
The voice was definitely not Jace's. It was female. Definitely female. It was also warm, rich, full. It was the voice of a woman, not a girl, a woman.
Slowly, I lifted my eyes from the menu, the anticipation of what I would see made me hang onto my breath and refuse to let it release into the air.
Initially, I saw her hand resting gently on the table top, feminine fingers tipped by dark red nail polish were straight and elegant. Then my eyes travelled up the sleeve of her dark green coat, to her shoulder, her throat, the same throat that was half covered by a cream scarf. I tried to breathe in again but a pain ached its way through my chest and I realised I had to let out air before inhaling more.
Pursing my lips, I released my breath slowly out into the air, the action imitating a whistler without the sound. However, when I moved my eyes up to see the woman's face there would have been no way I could have formed a whistle of any description. Dark brown eyes absorbed me completely, so dark, so vibrantly dark and captivating, I couldn't look away, not that I wanted to.
"I'm ...God. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have disturbed you." She made to turn away, those eyes breaking contact with mine, the loss of her gaze immediate.
I don't know why I reached out, don't know what possessed me to grab her hand, capture those slender fingers with my own, but I did, the sensation of the contact deliciously familiar. I didn't know the woman, I'd never met her before in my life, but it appeared my inner self did, something I would have dismissed before this moment.
"Wait!" The word hit the air with a redundant entreaty as my hand held her in place.
The woman turned to face me once again, her eyes flicking to where I held her hand before returning to meet my gaze. I hadn't realised, but I'd half stood, almost like a lurch in her direction.
The blush rushed over me, the heat of it startlingly exposing. What the fuck was I doing? Grabbing a woman's hand, getting up off my butt with the intention of stopping her leaving? It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had the large glass of Sauvignon blanc I'd ordered, but I was alcohol free.
I pulled my hand back, the heat from hers leaving a trail in its wake. Then I sat down again, thudding against the seat, and willed myself into some kind of composure. The woman waited for me to speak, her attention fully on my face.
"You wanted my attention?" My voice sound different as if it was coming from someone else. "Said 'Excuse me'?" I tried to smile but I knew it would appear forced, so tried again with not much hope of me not looking either feral or mad or both.
The woman before me laughed a short, musical laugh, shaking her head rapidly from side to side, but even I could see that she was embarrassed by my confrontation.
"I, well, I just wondered if you were eating alone."
I lifted my eyebrows in surprise, my eyes widening.
"And what business is it of yours if I am eating alone or not?" The words came out sharper than I intended. To be honest, all of it came out without intent and definitely without thought. I'd expected my brain to wait for the woman to elaborate on her initial statement before opening my mouth.
"No worries, okay?" The woman turned to walk away and I stood and grabbed her hand again, stopping her retreat.
"I'm so very sorry. I don't know what came over me." I tugged her hand before releasing it again. "Can I plead insanity because of Christmas shopping?"
A hesitant smile played along her mouth and I wanted to see what that smile would look like once released.
"The effects of being exposed by too much Christmas cheer?" I tilted my head, my own smile trying to tease hers free. I knew I was flirting, knew I shouldn't be flirting with a woman I had no idea was gay or not but not giving a flying fig and flirting anyway.
My expectation of what her smile would look like could never have lived up to the actuality of being on the receiving end of it. Everything and everyone else just disappeared, evaporated into nothingness. No noise, no chatter, no bustle or hustle. There was only her, only her smile. Her face took on a celestial glow as if illuminated by her inner nimbus, her eyes glinted, dark and light, light and dark, and I was lost in them, lost in her.
"Of course you can. I know what you mean about being Christmassed out."
I nodded, my ability to answer her seemingly amiss at that moment.
"Anyway, it is absolutely packed in here and I just wanted to ask if you minded if I joined you, but if you're expecting someone ..."
She stepped back and a spark of anxiety lit in my gut as I believed she was leaving.
She opened her mouth to speak just as I realised I'd told her I didn't want her sitting at my table, therefore fulfilling the previous thought of her upping sticks and leaving the bistro.
"No, I mean yes. Crap." I closed my eyes and tried to collect any thoughts, and dignity, and preferably any tips on how not to be a twat, before continuing the yes/no argument I had going on.
"No, I am not expecting anyone. Yes, I would love for you to join me." I gestured to the empty seat opposite me and delighted in the fluttering sensation inside my stomach when she pulled the chair out, slipped off her coat, and hung it on the back before taking the seat. It was only at that point did I sit back onto my own chair, the atmosphere in the restaurant forever changed.
"One large glass of Sauvignon blanc." Jace's voice interrupted the moment. "Oh, please excuse me. I didn't realise you were waiting for someone else."
My inner voice mumbled something I didn't want to acknowledge at that moment, so, instead, I gestured to the woman who had occupied the place in front of me.
"Glass of Sauvignon blanc. A large one." After putting in her order, her attention moved from the menu to clock Jace's name badge. "Could you ... is that mistletoe?"
Jace's chest puffed out, a definite pride in his artwork apparent. Aubrey Beardsley he was not but I wasn't going to be the one to tell him his kissing bough looked more like a painful set of piles.
"Yes. I thought I would get into the Christmas spirit."
I wanted to laugh at his exuberance but fixed my attention back to the menu instead.
There was no sarcasm in her "Well, I for one, think those berries are magnificent." She paused before adding "Could you give me a few minutes to look at the menu, Jace?"
"Of course, of course. One Sauvignon blanc coming up."
A few moments passed and we said nothing. I sensed her perusing the menu, and I could also feel her attention coming to rest onto me now and again.
"They are parasitic by nature you know?"
I looked over my menu at her, but she was still reading the bill of fare.
I wanted to say something intelligent, or witty, or intelligently witty, something that would capture her interest and make her look at me with as much absorption as she was looking at the menu, or even get her to smile like she had a few minutes before. Or laugh. I bet she had a glorious laugh, a womanly laugh, a laugh that could make every hair on my body stand up and beg. I'd heard the short version but I wanted to hear to full out one.
"Who? The Conservative Party?" The words left my mouth just as I realised that making jokes about politics was not the best way to engage in a conversation with a beautiful brunette haired I wanted to impress either intellectually or with humour.
"I vote Conservative." Dark eyes lifted from the menu only to bore deeply into my own. Her look was so intense, so absorbingly enticing, I failed to note for how long I stared at her.
"No need to apologise. I'm not offended."
"I'm not apologising for saying it. I'm saying I'm sorry because you vote Conservative." I pushed my tongue into my cheek and waited for her reaction.
Once again, the noise of the bistro thrummed around us but I was too encapsulated by a woman I'd met less than ten minutes previously to notice anything but her. She half closed her left eye and weighed me up, her expression denoting both interest and scrutiny. With a single nod, it appeared I'd been accepted for one reason or another just before her laugh broke out.
I'd been wrong. I thought she may have a glorious laugh, one that could make all the hairs on my body stand up and beg. This was not the case. Her laugh was more than glorious, much more than that. The hairs on my body did stand to attention, saluting her in their own little hairy way. But they were not on their own. It appeared as if every part of my body reacted to that laugh, that musical, feminine and womanly laugh. However, it wasn't just the sound of her laugh, it was the whole action of it. The way her head tilted back, her eyes half closing, the way her perfectly formed lips parted to release the sound of perfection into the air. I knew I should've joined in with the laughter, but I couldn't. I was too absorbed, too fascinated by all that was her.
Then she stopped laughing, her focus on me, her expression slightly confused and concerned. I'd been caught staring at her and the embarrassment of it acted like a bucket of ice cold water shocking me back into the situation.
"One large glass of Sauvignon blanc for madam."
Momentarily, she continued to look at me before breaking her gaze to acknowledge Jace.
"Thank you. One more minute?"
My eyes darted back to the menu and I quickly scoured the list of main courses to where I'd left off before.
"I'll be back to collect both your orders in a few minutes." He leaned conspiratorially between us. "I know you ladies have a lot to catch up on."
I moved to refute what he said, my intended phrasing along the lines of "I've never seen her before in my life" but smiled and nodded at him in thanks, then returned to look back at the menu as he moved away.
Her gaze was on me. I could feel the heat of it, just as surely as I could feel the heat of my blush creeping over my face. Again.
Without looking up, I said "My. It's warm in here, isn't it", then followed the profound observation with a waft of my hand as if the insipid action had the capability of dispelling the luminous glow beaming from my face.
She didn't answer, so I looked over the table to where she was seated. The woman held her menu in one hand whilst the other hand propped her chin up. Her elbow leaned on the table allowing her attention to be unwaveringly fixed on me.
I should have felt embarrassed, exposed, idiotic, but no. How could I feel any of those feelings when I was looking straight at one of the most beautiful sights I believe I have ever seen. Those brown eyes captured every nuance, every flicker of light in the room and reflected them back straight at me. Her cheekbones were sculptured, a light dusting of makeup covering her skin; her lips were red, plump, seemingly like velvet, the lipstick almost gone but leaving a soft sheen that made me ache to taste it.
"Meghan Scott." It was fascinating to witness those words leave those delectable lips. The way the stretched and puckered around each syllable made me copy her, but more slowly.
"Yes. Meghan Scott." She paused, her head tilting slightly. "But you may call me Meghan."
"And you are?"
As soon as I had repeated her name I realised, not for the first time in my life, or that day for that matter, that I was a twat. A parroting twat at that.
"No, sorry. You're Meghan. I'm not Meghan. If I were Meghan, that would be weird. Not that being called Meghan is weird, but for us both to be called ... oh shit!" I slapped both my hands over my face and rubbed the palms frantically over my cheeks as if that would stop me acting like an idiot.
Then I stopped, took stock, lowered my hands from my face and lifted my gaze to the smiling woman seated opposite, the same woman I know knew to be called Meghan Scott.
"I'm Lilly Perkins."
Meghan's smile widened and she stuck her hand forward in invitation for me to take it. "Good to meet you, Lil-ly."
I was unsure whether she was taking the piss out of me for the way I had said her name, but I chose to consider it as a compliment, or a new way of introducing oneself.
Lifting my hand, I reached to take her proffered one, my fingers seeming to slip over her palm, my thumb tucking to the side. The heat from her to me was immediate, a sensation bubbling from our joined hands that travelled up my arm and across my chest, almost like liquid sunshine flowing throughout me. The inexplicable awareness of connection spread and I expected to see rays of light beam from my fingertips.
"Have... have we met before, Lilly?" Her voice was hushed, almost reverent.
Our eyes met and held, the connection achingly familiar once again.
I shook my head, adding a "No. No. I would know, no."
"I just feel as if we've met before, somehow. Just... I... never mind, eh?"
Slowly, I pulled my hand free from hers. I didn't want to release her hold, but I knew, socially, it was the right thing to do. Coolness enveloped my skin almost reassuring me that my hand wasn't the only thing feeling empty at that precise moment.
"Are the ladies ready to order?"
The sound of Jace's voice enabled me to tear my eyes from hers, leaving me to nervously grab the menu and point rapidly at the starters.
"Soupe a l'oignon, s'il vous plait. Et toi?" I looked expectantly at Meghan who winked and grinned, both actions reaching within my stomach and stirring up the butterflies into a mad fertility dance.
"Bon choix, cherie. Pour moi... soupe au pistou. Merci, Jace."
"Merci, madam." Then Jace was gone.
At this point, I was hoping that Meghan would not be expecting the rest of our dinner conversation to be in French, and not just because the sound of her speaking in French had played havoc with my libido, either. Truthfully, though, my order had been a slip up born out of the fact I had recognised an attraction for my surprise dinner companion and not because I was out to impress. My usual French usage consisted of ordering coffee or asking for the bill. Maybe "Ou sont les toilettes" will come out to play if the call of nature overrides my ability to spot the symbol for the restroom.
"I considered the onion soup but plumped for the seasonal veggie one with pesto."
Thank God for that. Coffee, soup, the bill and toilettes are not the most engaging dinner conversation two women could have. Speaking English opened up the topics for me immensely.
"So, Lilly, what brings you to Norwich two days before Christmas? I hope you're not one of those 'last minute shoppers'." Meghan chuckled softly to herself, then lifted her glass of wine to her lips.
"What's wrong with leaving a couple of gifts to the last minute?" I tried not to sound too defensive and, to be honest, I wasn't sure I had succeeded. "Some people don't get a lot of free time to go swanning around the city picking the perfect gift for each and every one.
Meghan sighed into her wineglass, the inside misting slightly as the heat of her breath met the coolness of the wine. For a moment, I envied the glass.
She flicked her eyes my way, the glint of them seeming gold in the darkness of the brown.
Then she spoke again. "I know what you mean about time. I've done most of my shopping online this year as I just didn't get the chance to physically get around the stores." Meghan took a sip of her wine and placed the glass back onto the table. "It is easier to order from online stores, yes, but nothing beats picking something up, examining it, imagining the recipient's face as he or she receive the handpicked gift. Don't you think so?"
The memory of me clicking on the scales for my brother-in-law popped into my head and I inwardly cringed, the urge to grit my teeth was overwhelming.
"I know some people who have not bought one gift by actually walking into a store and buying it." Her expression as she spoke appeared so serious, so flabbergasted that there were people out there who took the easier option by having orders delivered, even personal gifts. Gifts "chosen with love".
"What's so bad about that? Seeing something online, reading reviews and comparing prices is a good thing isn't it? Buying off the cuff in store is buying it blindly in this day and age." Even as I spoke, the thought of the anti-ageing cream for my sister flittered through my mind and I had to fight the thought of what a great deal I had secured before I had cancelled it as soon as I'd woken that morning.
Just like I'd tried to cancel Christmas this year but had chickened out before the big day. But that in itself is another story.
"I get that. I do. But what is to stop you reading about the item before you go out, or looking up a review before you commit to buy?"
I wanted to agree with her, and what she was saying was true, but there was a part of me that wanted to get past chatting about where I did my Christmas shop and did I go on the lazy git list or not. If truth be known, I wanted to find out more about Meghan than where she buys her underwear or how she chooses them.
Images of female underwear popped into my head, but not just the underwear but the image of Meghan wearing it. Not good. Actually, that is a lie. The image was too good. Too bloody damned good.
Lurching forward, I attempted to grab my glass of wine. Unfortunately, the glass had a different, more spectacular idea, namely tipping backwards to relieve itself of its contents over the woman who had, eventually, loosened up a notch.
Thankfully, my reflexes were not as dim witted as the rest of me, and I managed to right the glass before it gushed wine over my beautiful dinner companion.
"Phew! That was a close one." Meghan's hands were outstretched as if she had tried to deflect the surge of Sauvignon blanc that had apparently been on its way over to her.
My heart was thundering, the excitement of nearly soaking a stranger with my hard earned glass of white kick starting the adrenaline within me.
"Two soups?" Jace stood at the side, the bowls of soup steaming. "Onion for you..." he placed my starter in front of me, the cheese melting perfectly onto the bread on the top.
I closed my eyes, leaned forward, and inhaled, my stomach gurgling in delighted approval.
"Looks delicious." Meghan's voice broke through my hungry haze and I took in her soup, something that also looked appetising. "Next time I'm plumping for the onion."
For a split second, I believed she meant the next time we both came to the bistro together, my eyes widening with delighted surprise. However, it didn't take me long to realise that she meant when she came back either on her own, or with her husband... I glanced to her left hand and noted the lack of a ring. Or partner. Or significant other. Maybe even a friend.
Or me, whispered a little voice at my ear.
I shook my head to rid the thought before becoming aware that Meghan was watching me.
"Fancy a taste?" I didn't even wait for her to reply, just dug my spoon into my soup, snagging some cheese and bread and liquid, and lifted it high and across the table. Meghan hesitated, her eyes meeting mine. A slight lift of her right eyebrow seemed to indicate she had taken the proffered soupy gauntlet, and she leaned forward, her lips pursed. A slow soft whistling sound left her mouth as she blew on my offering before those same lips widened and enveloped my spoon, dragging themselves backward, the food gone.
Meghan's eyes closed as she chewed, the delightful noises she made aiming straight to places I'd never expected to be awakened by just hearing someone eat soup.
I crossed my legs and tensed my inner thighs hoping to ease the sudden aching, but with no luck.
"Would you like to sample mine?"
I nodded, the ability to answer leaving me. Maybe the problem was because I wasn't thinking about tasting her soup right at that moment. Soup was the last thing I wanted to sample ...
"Careful, its hot."
Too damned right it's hot. Scorching, in fact. And once again, I wasn't referring to soup.
The edge of the spoon touched my lip before I snapped out of my mental meanderings, and without thinking it through, I opened my mouth and slipped the whole spoon inside, the heat of the soup immediate.
Instead of screaming, or spitting it out, or making a show of it all, I kept it inside. Lifting my hand, I caught Meghan's wrist and held the spoon still inside, still inside and vibrating gently on to my tongue. Was it me making the spoon shake or was it Meghan?
Slowly, I pulled my head back, the contents spilling from the spoon, the flavours bursting out. Even though it was hot, I couldn't hold back the groan of pleasure induced by the taste greeting me and sparking my taste buds into life. It wasn't until I opened my eyes again did I see Meghan's flushed expression, her eyes almost black in the dimming light. Initially, I believed it to be due to the same kind of attraction I'd felt when she had sampled my starter, but then I realised I was still holding her wrist, the spoon still aloft.
I released her immediately, her utensil bobbing slightly before moving back to the other side of the table only to clang against the side of her bowl.
Embarrassment made me shy. I'd acted like a fool and stepped over the invisible line between being friendly to someone I'd just met, and I'd turned it to being overfamiliar and acting as if I was on a date.
The contents of my soup bowl suddenly seemed way more interesting than staring longingly into Meghan's startled eyes. Once again, I could sense she was looking at me, expectation thick in the air, but I felt too exposed, too stupid to return the gaze.
"Tastes good." I couldn't say anything else, so I focused on my bowl even more.
It didn't make things easier to know that her mouth had caressed the spoon I was lifting to my lips. Knowing this innocent spoon had been to places I could only dream about acted as a doubled sided emotional coin. One side of this allowed me to ingest her, sample the taste of her, be where she had been, however, the flip side, the opposing view, allowed me to be where she had been, sample the taste of her, ingest her with the full knowledge that is where it would end.
In silence, we ate our soup.
The restaurant was heaving; people were being turned away at the door because there was just no room. The chatter was lively, full, vibrant. Voices carried songs, carried laughter, carried jovial welcomes and goodbyes. The soup had been eaten, the menu perused once more. The air between Meghan and I was expectant. I wanted to speak but didn't quite trust myself not to act like an idiot once more.
Jace appeared, his notebook ready for our next course.
I smiled and nodded at Meghan, indicating she should go first.
"I'll have the moules, please." I wanted to make a gagging face and announce that mussels always reminded me of a clitoris, but then realised that was not the done thing. If Meghan liked to eat fishy and garlicky clits, then so be it. Who am I to judge?
Jace turned his attention to me.
"Poulet Breton, please."
"Any more wine, ladies?"
I shook my head and looked to Meghan who placed her hand over her glass to indicate she had enough. Jace smiled at us both and moved away.
"So. What brings you into the city two days before Christmas?" Meghan slipped her hand down the side of her glass and cupped the bowl of it, lifting it to her mouth.
I grinned, a full out, all teeth showing, grin.
"Last minute shopping?" I picked up my glass and took a sip of the wine, the coolness replaced by the warmth of the room.
Meghan threw her head back and laughed, the sound totally infectious. A few people seated at surrounding tables looked over, their expressions showing happiness and conviviality, something I wish would happen all the year round and not just at Christmas.
All embarrassment I'd felt disappeared with just the sound of her laugh. Just by her laughing, by her wanting to continue conversation after me keeping her wrist as hostage whilst I orgasmed over veggie soup, I knew that she had not taken it to heart. She probably didn't even see the scene in the same way I had. I was looking at events through the eyes of a fully paid up member of the lesbian society, whereas I was beginning to doubt Meghan had clocked the fact I was of the Sapphic persuasion. Unless she had exceptional gaydar, something most straight women, or men, didn't possess. Or if they did, I hadn't yet found anyone straight yet who had the gift of gaydar. To be perfectly honest, I was gay and didn't possess it either, but that is by the by.
"What about you? I get the feeling you're not a last minute shopping kind of woman."
Meghan pulled a face, grinned, then sipped her wine.
"I'm waiting for my daughter."
The smile I'd been giving her seemed to freeze and I desperately hoped it didn't make me look as if I was grimacing. But, truthfully, I was in shock. I have no idea why Meghan announcing she was waiting for her daughter would have such an effect on me, it wasn't as if I'd known her for years and she suddenly announced she had children. I'd known her for approximately thirty minutes and most of that time had been spent choosing, ordering, or eating food.
"Oh really?" I took a larger sip of my wine and tried to think of something to say. "Is she with her father?"
Meghan laughed and shook her head. "I doubt it very much. He is definitely not in the picture."
Meghan didn't seem to be too upset that the father of her child was AWOL. Actually, she seemed more than okay with it, happy in fact.
"She is having pizza with her friend at Pizza Express." Meghan reached over and placed her hand over mine, gave it a quick squeeze before pulling it away. I was so stunned, I nearly missed the next part. "Please don't think I'm a bad mother, Em is with Joy, and the rest of Joy's family."
"The thought of you being a bad mother had not entered my mind." Or the fact she was a mum, but I left that bit out.
"I thought it easier to eat out and wait for them to be finished than to go home and come back into the city." Meghan shrugged. "It was Em's idea. As we were coming out of the exit at Chapelfield, she looked in here and suggested I have something to eat in style instead of just grabbing the sub-of-the-day at Subway and having a read."
She released a small, light laugh. "Sometimes I think she's the adult instead of me."
All the while Meghan had been speaking about her daughter, she had a definite glow surrounding her, a radiance, a happiness. Or had she always seemed to exude a celestial light? As I remember, yes, she did.
"How old is Em?"
"Nearly 12 going on 21." Meghan laughed that perfect laugh again. "I can't believe I have a child who is not far off becoming a teenager."
Neither could I. On any level at any age.
I lifted my glass and imbibed a mouthful just as Meghan asked, "Do you have children?"
I have no idea how I didn't choke on my wine or launch it across the table. But, I held the liquid safely inside my mouth before consciously swallowing it.
"Yes. I have children." Considering Meghan had asked the question, I was slightly surprised to see a flash of astonishment cross her face, so fleeting, I believed I'd imagined it.
"This year I have twenty-seven children, not including all the others I take under my wing."
Her laugh was more like a snort of dumbfounded disbelief and I knew she was having a bit of a struggle thinking of how to react.
It was my turn to lean over, cover her hand and give it a squeeze.
"I'm a teacher."
"Moules et frites?"
I turned my attention to Jace, who was holding a mussel pot and a bowl of fries, and smiled before nodding in Meghan's direction.
But Jace didn't make a move to put the mussels in front of Meghan, or even the fries. He just returned my smile and waited. And waited. Then waited some more. His eyes flicked to the table and I followed his look. There, as bold as brass, was my hand in the prime mussel pot place. If that wasn't bad enough, my hand was not alone. It was hugging up nicely to another hand, a fine, slender, elegant hand. A hand whose fingernails were painted with a deep red varnish.
Thankfully, the "oh fuck" that resounded in my head stayed inside my head. I turned my attention to Meghan, fully expecting her to be glaring at me or, at the very least, looking uncomfortable. But she was smiling, a real smile and not a fake one.
"Maybe it would help Jace if we moved our hands, eh?" Her voice was gentle, coaxing, the same intonation I'd expect from a partner and not a straight woman who had at least one child eating pizza two hundred metres away.
She turned her hand over so her palm met mine, her fingers twining around my own. It was so intimate, so deliciously connected that any weirdness I should've been feeling didn't transpire. Meghan lifted my hand out of the way so Jace could place the pot and bowl into the space in front of her.
Then she released my hand and left it leaning on the table top at the side of my fork.
Moments passed but I didn't say a word. Jace had gone and returned with my Poulet Breton with mash, and retreated to the safety of somewhere else in the restaurant.
"What age?" Meghan's voice broke through my self-inflicted stupor.
"Age?" I stared at my chicken.
"Not the chicken, the kids you teach." Amusement danced in her voice, the pitch of it lighter, happier from when we first spoke. This, in turn, made me feel better about what had just happened.
"Teenagers, well, 11 to 16."
Meghan released a low whistle, her eyes flicking to mine then back to arranging her mussel pot lid so she could dispose of the shells.
"You must be a very brave woman to face teens every day."
I shrugged, "I love my job, love the kids."
"Good to know. Teaching is a hard enough job as it is, but I can imagine it could be a nightmare if you didn't get along with the students."
"True, very true. It's all about statistics and league tables now. Admin takes more of my time than planning lessons." I sliced my chicken, forked a piece with a chunk of courgette, swirled both in the sauce and scooped it into my mouth, the flavours bursting open. Closing my eyes, I hummed to myself in happiness, the urge to do a seated happy dance welling within.
Upon opening my eyes, my attention was directly at Meghan. Her expression was hard to read, her mouth slightly open, her brows furrowed slightly. In her hand she held the shell of a mussel that I presumed she was using to winkle out the other mussels, but she wasn't doing any winkling. Just posing avec la coquillage et fruit de la mer.
"Don't you like them?" I was silently praying she wasn't going to say she wanted to swap our meals as she had realised hers looked like tiny clits, and wouldn't it be more feasible if I had the mussels instead considering I was a lezza. I know the last part was a little over imaginative, but that was the only thing I could think of at that moment.
"Yes. Yes. They're wonderful." But she continued to hold the little shelled nub aloft, her eyes on me.
"You sure?" I could feel my will cracking. If she asked to swap I knew I would cave in and find myself stuffing mini lady buds into my mouth like they were going out of fashion.
Meghan shook her head slightly, shoulder length dark hair bobbing forward to rest on her cheeks.
"Honestly. These are the best mussels I've had for ages."
Even though she scooped the fleshy wedge from the shell and dropped it into her mouth, I was still dubious whether I would be keeping hold of my Poulet Breton.
"Fancy sampling a mussel or two?" Meghan held out over the table what appeared to be a soggy fleshy blob.
"I'm good, thanks."
"Go on. One won't kill you." She gestured again, the mussel dangling from the clamped shell she was using instead of a fork.
"Okay. I'll try one." And only one.
I placed my knife and fork onto my plate as if I was about to deliver bad news, and leaned forward. So did she, her hand lifting higher forcing me to tilt my head back and open my mouth as if I was just about to be fed grapes. Her fingertips touched my lips as the mussel dropped into my mouth, the sensations mingled and stopped me from chewing.
The mussel perched on my tongue, the roof of my mouth refusing to make contact in case I would actually taste the shellfish. Meghan's eyes widened and she moved her face even closer to mine.
"Are you going to swallow it?" Her voice was light, curious, whilst a smile formed on her perfectly shaped mouth.
I bounced the morsel gently on my tongue, the flavour of garlic releasing itself, the taste not overly unpleasant.
"If you'd rather, you can spit it out." The smile she'd started to form was deliberating whether it should make an appearance after all. "Mussels, and garlic for that matter, are not everyone's cup of tea." Meghan grimaced slightly before adding, "I should have warned you about the garlic before I stuffed it in yo.."
I frantically chewed the mussel and swallowed before I gagged, then, like the child I am, opened my mouth wide and thrust my tongue out for inspection, making a strangled noise that was supposed to mean, "There you go. All gone" but sounded more like "Aeeer euuu o. Alllle onnn."
I doubt Jace was expecting me to turn to face him, tongue out, eyes wide, when he did the customary visit to ask if our meals were okay. Firstly, don't waiters usually wait until mouths were full before asking?
"Fabulous, Jace. Still loving your mistletoe." Meghan beamed at the waiter, who, momentarily, looked a little stunned. "However, could we have some iced water?"
He nodded, tried to smile at her, but turned to look at me instead. Thankfully, I'd regained some composure and was shovelling a fork full of mash into my mouth to rid it of the taste of fish and garlic. Then he was gone, leaving us to eat once again.
"You are such a brave girl." Her tone was sensual, seductive, and my speared chicken and leek hovered in front of my mouth as I was too surprised to slot it inside, so I lowered it again.
Upon looking at Meghan, I realised that maybe I'd misinterpreted the intonation. She'd gently gripped her chin, her expression interested but not flirtatious. A quick, light tap of her index finger, then she released her chin and broke her gaze, her focus back on her mussels.
I observed her for a moment, the dip of her head, the length of her lashes, the way her shoulder length dark hair fell forward and cradled her face. Meghan Scott was stunning, absolutely breathtakingly stunning.
And straight. And a mum, although that bit didn't bother me. I liked kids; as well as I used to be one, I still worked alongside them on a day to day basis. It was the straight bit I had a problem with. Trust me to be attracted to a straight woman.
Resigned to my fate, I decided the best course of action would be to finish my meal and get going. Silly, I know. Just because I was attracted to the woman seated opposite me, the straight woman seated opposite me, didn't mean I had to bolt my food down and run for the hills. It is perfectly acceptable to feel attraction to someone I had no reason to feel attracted to, but, to be honest, I just couldn't deal with it all. I just wanted to get home and stare at my four walls for a bit before realising that I still hadn't finished my Christmas shopping.
I once again lifted the fork full of food, but this time I put it inside my mouth.
"A mussel looks like a clitoris doesn't it."
I couldn't tell which item of food decided to go down the wrong way and make me choke, but whichever, chicken or leek, felt the size of a golf ball, and I am definite something shot out of my nose. Thankfully, my napkin was there to save the day.
And so was Jace.
As I guzzled the ice cold water, I was surprised I didn't hear a sizzling noise to accompany the heated sensation in my throat. Looking over the glass, Meghan continued to eat her mussels, her face the picture of innocence.
Something was happening, something I wasn't quite sure about as yet. But, I believed if I stuck it out, maybe, just maybe, I would get to the bottom of it.
Nothing was said about my near death experience. Or any other reference to mussels looking like one of the key players in female genitalia for that matter. We ate our main courses in relative silence, although in my head I was having a full blown conversation. However, the other participant in the chat was myself, so I'm unsure if that counts.
And the focus of the chat?
In the words of The Clash, "Should I stay or should I go?"
I was definitely torn. One part of me believed it would be wiser to get my bill, pay, bid adieu and Merry Christmas to all, "so long, and thanks for all the fish" and all that, and leave without looking back. The other part of me had spotted Crème Brûlée on the menu, a menu I hadn't even realised I'd picked up again whilst having my inner mental battle.
That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it, just like the dessert would, undoubtedly, stick to my ribs.
Therefore, it came as a surprise when I saw Meghan pick up her handbag and start rummaging inside, probably for her purse so she could pay and leave.
"You not having dessert?" The panic in my voice was obvious. I know I'd deliberated leaving after my main course, but I'd had a change of heart and wanted the full three courses and coffee experience with Meghan Scott. "They have wonderful desserts. You can't leave without sampling one."
Meghan pulled her phone from her handbag and waggled it as if she was showing it to an idiot, which obviously she was. "Just checking on Em and I'll be joining you." She leaned closer, her voice taking on what I could only describe as her seductive quality again. "There's one thing here I just can't resist."
With her free hand, she reached over the table. Expectation made my heart thump frantically, and with force, against my ribcage, especially when she stretched her index finger and placed it on the space right in front of me. My mouth suddenly became devoid of moisture, my ability to swallow gone.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Her finger rhythmically called my attention downwards to the table and, ultimately, to the menu I must've dropped there, her finger placed just above my own.
"Rum Baba?" Was this a new sexual position, or even an old sexual position but I just had never heard of it before this moment?
"Yes. Rum. Baba." Her eyes closed and she inhaled and exhaled softly and sensuously through her nostrils. "Mmhmmm."
I nearly parroted the delectable noise she made as a definite stirring kick started between the apex of my legs, but, for once, I managed to control myself. However, when I spied her tongue slip slowly along her bottom lip I thought my resolve would dissolve and I would launch myself over the table to satiate my growing hunger, and it wasn't a hankering for Crème Brûlée either.
Closing my eyes, I allowed the image to develop, something I'd never have done if I'd been in my right mind.
I lifted one eyebrow, my eyes still closed, a stupid smile slipping over my face.
"How's things there?"
I was on the verge of answering but her voice cut me off.
"You having fun?"
I opened my eyes to absorb the gorgeous woman, fully expecting those fabulous dark eyes to be digesting me whole. I didn't care if she was straight. I was attracted to her and, by the sounds of things, it was mutual.
"How was the pizza?"
Or not mutual, as it happens.
Meghan was eyeing me with concern, and I'm not surprised why this was so as I knew the heat from my face could toast marshmallows.
I wafted my hand in front of my face and did the "I'm so bloody hot I'm going to burst" mime before picking the menu up and repeating the action.
Meghan frowned slightly then picked up the ice water and topped up my glass. After placing the jug back on to the table, she scooped the drink and offered it out to me, her expression indicating I should take it.
"You had dessert yet?" She was still talking on the phone and I took the glass from her hand and started to drink, the coldness of the liquid charging a blaze of fire down my throat.
"What time ..." Meghan stopped part way through, tilting her head slightly and listening intently to her daughter.
Her daughter. Her child. The straight woman's offspring.
I stood sharply, my thighs banging against the table and making the cruet set and glasses judder across the polished wood. My hands stopping them falling over, but the wave of my embarrassment did not cease; it just worsened.
Meghan frowned slightly. She pulled her mobile away from her ear, "Everything okay?"
I nodded. "Loo. Won't be a tick."
I didn't wait for her to respond as I just upped sticks and left her there, the phone still hovering about six inches away from her ear at my last look in her direction.
Inside the locked cubicle of the toilet, I placed my forehead against the door and waited for a moment before pulling back and gently banging my head against the wood. Then I repeated the process three or four times.
That done, I pulled the lid down on the loo and sat down, my head now finding refuge in my hands.
What the fuck was I doing? Listing the obvious wasn't going to help; it was the implicit details that were fucking up my quiet dinner out after a frantic and pointless Christmas shop that I should be concerning myself with.
I knew I should've stuck to my guns of being a Grinch this year. Knew staying home curled up on the sofa with a good book was the scenario I should've stuck with. But no. I'd caved in at the last minute, guilt and expectation making me feel as if I had to participate in the season. My parents, my friends, my siblings were all aware that "Lilly would be opting out" this year and had all supported me on my decision.
This year had been a crappy year for more than one reason. Mainly, I'd lost out on my promotion to someone less experienced but cheaper to hire than me, a job I was more than capable of doing as I'd actually been acting Head of Department for years.
Initially, I'd been devastated to be overlooked, then the hurt had turned to anger, especially when it became more apparent that my new Head of Department did not have a clue what she was doing. The annoying thing was the only reason I'd gone for the job in the first place was because of guilt and expectation. Again.
Half way through the first term the students had started to complain in droves, and who did they complain to? Me. What could I do? Not much. If I passed on the students' concerns to the Head teacher it would just appear as if I had a bad bout of sour grapes. A case of "See? You gave the wrong woman the job." So, instead, I advised them to talk over their concerns with their parents - it could be a case of getting used to people's styles. So that's what they did, and then the parents started complaining. What happened next? My workload increased and so did my annoyance at the unfairness of it all.
Someone came into the toilets and into the cubicle next to mine. I stood up, then decided I actually did want to use the loo after all.
As I emerged from the stall, the woman who had come in whilst I was having my very own pity party next door to her was just finishing drying her hands. She smiled at me through her reflection in the mirror, her expression free and genuine, her blue eyes sparkling slightly as if she was brimming over with the joy of it all.
"To you, too."
And she was gone, leaving the scent of her perfume behind as a reminder that she'd been real and not conjured up from my now waking imagination.
As I washed my hands, I finally admitted to myself that it wasn't the missed promotion that'd made me believe I couldn't do Christmas this year. Maybe that had a smidgeon to do with it, but that wasn't the reason. Even though Christmas has never been my favourite time of the year, I just didn't have the heart to attempt to do it anymore. Couldn't conjure from my Santa hat a rabbit symbolising my love for the "season to be jolly" that, at some point in December, I could usually magic up.
What was the point in it? Christmas was about family, friends, showing those you loved that you loved them. Whether this happened through thoughtful gestures or gift giving, it worked out to be the same. Love. Love and sharing. Love and being part of it all.
And there lies the rub. I didn't feel loved, didn't feel part of it all. I felt alone, lost, hurt, unworthy. My ex-girlfriend had bailed as soon as she realised I wasn't going to just stop being hurt by my lack of acknowledgement from my employers, and although we were not the most compatible couple ever to be in a relationship, at least I'd had someone, even though that, once again, was mainly built on guilt and expectation.
Lifting my gaze up into the mirror, I took in my appearance. I wasn't bad looking. My eyes were clear, bright, emerald green; my lashes long and dark. Blonde hair draped over my shoulders, the curl in it natural and, for once, controlled. I didn't look thirty-eight even if I did say so myself. I leaned closer, my face inches from the mirror, my gaze intense, almost as if I was willing the inner me to come forward and admit to the world why I was alone.
"Merry Christmas, love."
I jumped, my head smacking onto the glass, the thunk of the movement bringing me to my senses.
"Bugger! You okay?" The woman who had wished me greetings of the season slipped her arm around my shoulders and turned me to face her. Although I could tell she was concerned with my welfare, the older woman exuded a quiet authority and a sense of calmness.
"It is just a little red but I don't think it'll bruise." She half turned, pulled a wedge of paper towels from the dispenser, and soaked them under the cold tap.
"Here. Put these on your forehead for a minute or two. You should be good to go."
I tried to argue that I was fine, but she insisted, giving me a glare that indicated I'd better just shut up and do what she said. So I did. I waited until she went into the toilet stall and shouted my thanks to her before making my escape.
Upon returning to the restaurant, it wasn't difficult to discern that Meghan was worried about my absence. She was standing, her focus in my direction accompanied the obvious relaxation of her body as soon as she spotted me making my way back to our table. The thought that she may have been concerned about my whereabouts lit a warmth inside me that started to spread like Christmas cheer.
"Everything okay?" Meghan smiled, although in my opinion it seemed a tad nervous. "What've you done to your head?" She reached her hand out to touch the red mark and I witnessed her realisation as she remembered I was, in fact, someone she didn't really know.
I chuckled and shook my head. "I just got carried away with my own reflection. It's nothing."
Meghan's expression indicated she was in two minds whether to believe my positive health declaration but, instead of challenging me, she lifted the menu and gave it a wiggle.
"So. I'm up for a Rum Baba if you are."
Oh the innocence of a phrase. I could define Rum Baba in so many different ways but none of them would involve spongey syrupy creamy stuff when I thought of doing it with the woman who was waiting for my reaction. Or am I thinking of rhumba?
"I'm not a lover of Rum Baba but ..."
"Let me guess what kind of dessert you'd go for." Her expression appeared playful mixed with hopeful, the combination making me release a short laugh.
I leaned forward, my forearms on the table.
"Okay. I'll play. What kind of dessert do you think I would go for?"
Meghan cocked her head, closed her right eye, and then proceeded to scrutinize me. Heat instigated by my realisation that she had been worried about my whereabouts began to travel more rapidly through me and I luxuriated in the sensation. I didn't care if Meghan was straight, didn't care if the attraction I was feeling was one sided, I wanted to enjoy the feeling of being alive and charmed by the moment instead of not feeling much more than apathy.
“I doubt you're an Eton Mess kind of girl – or fruity desserts of any kind.”
My expression gave nothing away. I had brought out Poker Face, a face which I usually used in class.
“That means you're not a Tarte lover."
I raised one eyebrow.
“I take it back.” Meghan glanced at the menu in her hand before straightening up, her focus directly on me. “Okay. Let's make this interesting.”
She had already, but that is by the by.
“If I'm wrong, I'll pay for your dessert.”
“And if you're right?”
Meghan gave me a crooked smile, one half of her mouth sensuously lifting and generating another flurry of butterflies to dance the mad fertility dance once again inside me.
All I could do was attempt to swallow the lump forming in my throat, a task that was hindered by the lack of moisture in my mouth. Why was I so affected by a woman I'd met not even an hour ago – a straight woman at that?
“You'll have to trust me on that one.”
It wasn't what she said, it was the way she said it. And how did she say it? I have no clue, only that the way it was said played havoc with those dancing butterflies and instigated a spurt of expectation to explode from within. A tiny thought budded inside my head, a teeny tiny thought that was disproving my initial medium sized thought that Meghan Scott was straight. Yes. She had a daughter, but so did a lot of gay women. What had she said when I'd mentioned her daughter's father? She'd laughed, hadn't she? Said he was definitely “not” in the picture.
But what about another mum? If I'd been wrong about Meghan being straight, maybe there was a Mrs Scott waiting at home for her wife and daughter to come back from a visit into the city.
Meghan was waiting for my response, her dark eyes sparkling with what only could be described as mischievous expectation. Just looking into those eyes I knew that whether this beautiful woman was gay or straight, I was attracted to her. I also knew that just by looking at her, being with her, sensing the genuine soul within her, Meghan was not the kind of woman who would give more than she could. In other words, if there was a “significant other”, Meghan would not be flirting with me, if, in fact, she was flirting at all.
In reality, I'd no clue whether Meghan was gay, straight, transgendered, bisexual, married to a woman, seeing someone, or anything else on the list of maybes. Furthermore, I also didn't know for sure whether Meghan would be faithful to whomever she could be or actually was with. How could I? How could anyone know for definite the trustworthiness of another unless she put herself out there? I mean, I hadn't known that Sally, my ex, the one who had bailed on me three months previously – would shag about with her work colleague before telling me that our relationship wasn't working anymore? How was I to know that she had been having sex with someone, whom I later found out to be called Chloe, even before I had been turned down for my promotion?
“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have …”
“Deal.” My stomach clenched with the word, the butterflies suspended in mid jig.
“Look…I overstepped my …”
I reached over the table to place my hand over hers, the one that was holding the menu.
“I accept the challenge. If you don't guess right, I get a free dessert. If you do… Well, I get a surprise, don't I.”
I squeezed her hand before releasing it, and leaned back into my chair. “Go on.” I lowered my head slightly and met her gaze, purposefully dropping the pitch of my voice for the effect of flirting. “Dessert me.”
Meghan appeared mute for a moment, her mouth just slightly open, her expression speculative. Her tongue wet her lips as if in readiness to the task ahead.
“O- kay .” Her voice was both thick and light, a glorious combination. “Let me recap.” She looked down at the menu with only her eyes, the position of her head straight. “No to Rum Baba. No to Tarte … or fruity, well, not quite.”
I lifted my wine and sipped, the contents nearly gone by now but I was drinking more out of self-consciousness than the need for the drink.
“Usually, you wouldn't go for the fruity dessert but today you have no choice. Am I right?”
I placed my glass carefully back on the table before meeting her eye.
“Sorry. I misheard you. Did you tell me my dessert of choice?”
Meghan laughed, her body visibly relaxing. “Looks like I won't be getting a clue from you.”
At that moment, Jace appeared.
“Are you ladies up for a little dessert?”
By the way Meghan moved, I could sense she was going to ask for a little while longer but I beat her to it.
“I know my friend here,” I gestured to Meghan, “would love the Rum Baba. Isn't that right?” I smiled smugly at her, the gauntlet thrown.
She nodded, her lips tightening momentarily as Jace scribbled onto his pad whilst repeating “R-uuum Bah – baaaa” in the way children spell words unfamiliar to them.
“And for madam?” He looked expectantly at me and I smiled widely and turned to the woman seated opposite before gesturing to indicate she would be ordering for me. “Oh… I see.”
His tone indicated he didn't “see” why we were playing funny buggers but he would just go with it anyway.
“Erm…” Meghan lifted her face, smiled at me before nodding her head once, then turned to Jace. “Hello again, young man. Still loving that mistletoe.”
Jace laughed, high and happily. “I did try drawing holly with the berries, but it just came out wrong.”
If the holly and berries looked worse than haemorrhoids then I, for one, was pleased he went for the mistletoe.
“Ah, where were we …” Meghan glanced down at the menu, her index finger running down the page of desserts. “I think the lady would like … no … the lady would love …”
The wait for her to announce what she believed I'd like, or love, appeared to drag and drag and drag, the expectation making me giddy, sick, happy and exhilarated all at the same time. If she got it wrong, I was nearly six quid better off, but that wasn't why my body was having so many different reactions. It wasn't as if I couldn't afford to pay the six pounds, or that having the extra money would change my world as I knew it. I wanted her choose the right dessert. Wanted her to prove me wrong and get it right so I could find out what her “You'll have to trust me on that one” amounted to. I stared at her, willing my powers of telepathy to work, creating images of the creamy dessert with the caramelised top to move from my mind into hers.
Jace waited, pen poised; I waited, everything poised.
“The lady would love the Crème Brûlée.” Brown eyes met mine and I had to stop the urge to cheer, lurch over the table and plant a kiss on that gorgeous mouth of hers. Instead, I dipped my head, indicated I accepted her genius and she was the winner of whatever it is she was hoping to win.
Jace looked from me to her, then her to me, his pen still aloft as if waiting for me to acquiesce.
I smiled, the effect of it lightening my heart. “Looks like you know what I want after all.” The double meaning was unintentional but I didn't want to take it back. Let her make of it what she wanted.
“Crème … Bru … leeeeee. Done.” And Jace left us alone, well, as alone as two women can be in a very busy restaurant.
A moment passed and nothing was said. Then another. And another, until I couldn't resist any longer.
“How did you know?”
Meghan grinned, her lips parting to show beautiful straight teeth. I mirrored her expression as if happiness was contagious.
“I'm surprised that is the first thing you asked.”
She shrugged and smiled again. “Well, if it had been me, I would've wanted to know what my forfeit was going to be.”
Bugger. But that could wait.
“True. But first, why Crème Brûlée? There are about ten desserts to choose from, so …” I leaned forward, my gaze catching hers. “And what did you mean about not having a choice for the fruity dessert?”
Meghan's face appeared to look warmer, but it could've just been the lighting that gave her the soft glow.
“Crème Brûlée is served with a strawberry and black pepper sorbet.” She tapped the menu, that index finger looking even sleeker and slenderer as she pointed to the section where it described the Crème Brûlée.
I breathed in deeply through my nostrils and held the breath inside for a moment. I was going to take a risk with my next move, a risk that could either work in my benefit, or illustrate my complete lack of judgment – something that could end up being disastrous and completely embarrassing. But, it was now or never. Chances were, if I was wrong, I would never see Meghan Scott again and I could always eat somewhere else.
The butterflies were back. This time they were completely out of synch with each other. A lump was forming in my throat and I had difficulty pushing it down, but I managed. Eventually.
“Ahem.” I meant the noise to come out as contemplative but it sounded more as if I was trying to get someone's attention and not necessarily the woman seated opposite. “Hmmm. Yes. I read that.” Even though the action of me slipping my finger over to meet hers on top of the menu appeared to be swift and seductive, the actuality of the movement was like pushing a boulder up a steep hill in icy weather wearing glass soled shoes.
“But, you still haven't explained why you thought I was a Crème Brûlée kind of woman.”
The heat from our single fingered connection was intensely wonderful and fully engaging. Meghan hadn't pulled away, not demanded an explanation of why I was suggestively pressing against the tip of her index finger with my own. My attention was fixed on it, fixed on the place where my unpolished nail met her polished one, and all sensation seemed to congregate around that particular point. The thought of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam played in my head, the extended arms stretching to connect and craft something majestically sacred between us.
The sound of Jace's voice broke through the moment, reality hitting suddenly, my attention shooting from our touching fingertips to Jace then to Meghan. Initially her expression reflected my own half startled one, her beautiful dark eyes widening to absorb the whole scene, but she shifted her interest to the man holding forth her dessert whilst moving her hand away from mine.
“I'm the Rum Baba, thank you.”
And I'm the one infatuated with Meghan Scott's presence, with her eyes, her smile, the way her fingertip feels against my own. I wanted more from her than a simple touch over a menu. I wanted to take her whole hand, gently, completely. I wanted to hold that hand and lift those delectable fingers to my mouth and kiss each one, kiss each knuckle, kiss the back of it.
I briefly looked at Jace as he placed my Crème Brûlée in front of me, a simple, absentminded thank you ensuing, but then I returned my attention to Meghan. Her focus was fixed on her plate, her fingers nervously wrapping around the dessert fork only to release it again.
It was at this point that I should've misconstrued the situation and believed that Meghan was appalled, or disgusted, or regretful. But I didn't. I took the situation for what it was. A beginning. A start. A lead in to something that could be so much bigger than a moment spent connecting over a menu.
“Come on. Eat up.” Meghan looked upwards at my words, her face still dipping down but her interest and gaze totally with me. “You can tell me how you knew over coffee, yes?”
Her lips twitched, the movement sumptuously addictive.
Lifting my spoon, I tapped the caramelised layer of my dessert until it cracked and gave way, allowing me to dip inside to the rich vanilla softness.
“I envision you as a Crème Brûlée.” Her voice was thick, sensuous and rich.
My hand stopped, the spoon stilled.
“Although your exterior could be classed as initially impenetrable, it is still sweet, deliciously sweet.” Meghan broke part of her Rum Baba away from the bulk of the dessert, the action seductively slow. “And inside,” her eyes came back to look into mine, “the promise of ambrosia.”
My face was both numb yet it tingled; my heart seemed to stop yet it thumped frantically against my ribcage. So much had happened in the last hour or so, so many emotions dusted off and brought out to play, so many expectations for my future that I was struggling to place any of it in any kind of order. The chances of randomly meeting someone so stunningly attractive, so engagingly wonderful in a crowded restaurant two days before Christmas were slimmer than slim. For her to reciprocate the attraction was almost zero, but that is exactly what had happened and it had made me deliriously and ecstatically dizzy with the joy of it.
“Come on. Eat up.” Meghan repeated my previous words, a smile slowing slipping over her lips, her spoon holding hand gesturing for me to make a move on my dessert. “And over coffee, I will tell you what your forfeit is for my guessing what you wanted."
As her smile grew wider, I had the distinct impression she was referring to more than what I would have chosen for pudding. I also had the feeling, again, that there was more going on here than met the eye, something underlying everything that had happened this evening that I wasn't privy to.
Meghan's concentration returned to her Rum Baba and I spent a moment or two just absorbing her. Whatever was to come next would come next and I would deal with it then. For the moment I would luxuriate in eating my favourite dessert in the company of a beautiful woman, a woman, dare I add, that had shown a passing interest in me too.
Scooping a heaped spoonful of the vanilla, whilst capping the mound with some of the caramelised topping, I held the treat in front of my mouth and looked at it. "The 'promise of ambrosia' eh?" The words stayed in my head, but the weight of them travelled throughout my body.
Opening my mouth, I placed the spoonful of dessert inside, the sweet creaminess delicious.
I just hoped Meghan Scott liked Crème Brûlée too. Both kinds.
Desserts were eaten without much talk. For my part, the reason for the lack of chit chat was clear. As well as eating something divine seated with someone divine, I wanted to bring everything that had happened in the last hour or so into some kind of perspective, order events in my head in readiness for coffee, coffee that would lead to some kind of epiphany in one way or another.
Each spoonful I'd devoured brought me closer to our talk. Each delectable mouthful tasted sweeter, tasted better because of the company I shared. Expectation welled inside me, the ripple of it seeming to travel along my veins and around my body. Instead of feeling the usual sadness when I would eat the last bite of my dessert, I experienced the thrill of prospective conversation between Meghan and myself.
Jace appeared at the side of the table, his quick question of "All done?" greeted with satisfied huffs, belly rubbing and contented murmurs.
"Meghan?" I smiled at the woman opposite.
"Espresso, please." She leaned toward me, a glint of mischievousness in her eye. "Shall I guess how you take your coffee?"
A short laugh shot out before I said, "Maybe getting it right twice on the trot is pushing it."
Meghan's eyebrow lifted, almost as a jovial challenge, before she laughed and shook her head. "Nope. You got me there. You're on your own for this one."
"Just a basic, run of the mill white coffee, please."
"Cafe au lait or Americano with milk?"
I didn't want to point out that cafe au lait was just coffee with milk, although I also knew that it could mean different things to different people depending on their coffee culture. Then again, Americano with milk could be different, too. The reason I didn't go into detail about the use of either hot and cold milk, and was the coffee drip filtered, pressed or espresso was because I was too concerned about what was about to transpire between myself and Meghan. Or maybe I didn't want her to realise I'm a boring, pedantic, old fart. Not this early on, anyway.
"Either. I'm easy." Although usually more anal about my beverage to aid digestion. "Just a white coffee, thanks."
"One espresso, one Americano with milk. Done." Jace looked up from his pad, grinned at us, then collected our dishes. "I'll be right back with your drinks."
Then he was gone, and I was left waiting for Meghan to tell me what she meant by forfeit.
"Over coffee, Lilly." I loved how she said my name. Each L was caressed by her tongue, the sound of each syllable full and rounded.
"You missed your chance to mention his mistletoe."
Meghan chuckled, shaking her head. "I'd love to see his holly if his mistletoe looks better in comparison. But, that said, he's very much in the Christmas spirit, and that's what matters."
Just as she finished speaking, a high pitched beep sounded. Meghan dipped below the table and brought up her handbag, shortly to be followed by her mobile.
"Excuse me a moment."
I was pleasantly surprised by her apology as not many people would even think about the social impropriety of ignoring his or her dinner companion to sit reading and responding to texts. Unfortunately, this day and age, society usually condones it.
"Em will be outside in a few minutes."
My stomach dropped, and not because I'd remembered that Meghan had a daughter. I was totally fine with that, actually, more than fine. It was because her daughter would be outside in five minutes and that meant my time with the beautiful woman opposite me would soon be over. As soon as Meghan Scott had seated herself opposite me earlier in the evening, it was as if a giant hour glass had been turned over and Fate had announced that we only had however long it took for the sand to sieve through to the base to be together. Stupidly, I'd believed that my attraction for Meghan had been rushed, that I shouldn't have become so attracted so quickly. But now, now that time was very much of the essence, I realised I hadn't acted quickly enough. Life is made up of so many missed opportunities, so many encounters that are shied away from because we are too fearful of making the most of the here and now, the then and there.
"She wants to go to HMV with Joy, but also wants Mum to tip up some spending money."
"HMV?" Why did I sound as if I didn't know that HMV was a music store? "Spending money?" Scrap that. What I meant to write was why do I sound like a dim witted fucker?
Meghan had pulled her purse out of her bag and was digging around inside. She stopped, looked up and smiled widely.
"You know what 12-year-old girls are like, especially when they get with their friends."
"Only too well." I rolled my eyes and chuckled.
"I won't be a tick." Meghan stood, then leaned towards me, her face only about ten inches from mine. For one delectable moment I had the feeling I was about to be kissed and my breath caught in expectation. I'm not usually the type of woman who kisses relative strangers in the middle of a bustling restaurant. To be truthful, I rarely even kiss on a first date. However, seeing Meghan's eyes so close, the darkness of her irises reflecting the lights around us, the length of her black lashes clear enough that I could almost see each individual lash. Her scent was intoxicating, full bodied and rich, filling my nostrils and enticing my body to react.
I moved closer, drawn in by the moment, my tongue wetting my lips, my teeth nipping the bottom one as if to plump it for action. I noted Meghan do the same, the space between us closing.
A cough was heard from the side of the table and I really didn't want to acknowledge it. I knew it would be Jace holding our coffees and grinning and I wasn't prepared to let him interrupt us once again. So I ignored it, my eyes beginning to close in readiness of meeting her sumptuous mouth with mine.
Another cough sounded, and I stilled my movement, my eyes opening to look into Meghan's. Was it my imagination, or had Jace's vocal cords lifted a couple of octaves?
"Hi, Mum." My eyes widened fully, the strain of the action pulling my skin taut. I moved back into my seat, but Meghan just turned sideways and smiled at what had to be a young girl next to us, a young girl who must've been her daughter. I was so hoping that either Em knew her mother liked women, or ... I have no idea what else. It just felt right, for some reason or another, to try and compare situations.
"Hi Miss Perkins."
And I'd never thought that would be the situation I would be comparing.
Swallowing the lump that'd formed in my throat, I turned. A young pretty girl stood next to our table, the same young pretty girl whom I recognised as a student in my top set year 8 class.
Emily Scott. Em. I could not believe I'd not made the connection between mother and daughter, but then again, why would I? I taught, on average, one hundred and fifty students per day, and trying to link each student to a parent outside of school would be an impossibility. It is not as if I'd had the pleasure of a year 8 parents evening under my belt as yet as I would've definitely remembered Meghan Scott. Too bloody right I would've remembered her.
"Hello, Emily. Enjoy your pizza?" My voice sounded normal, calm, so unlike how I was feeling.
She nodded and smiled widely, the smile a mirror image of her mother's.
"Are you with Joy Taylor?" At this rate I would be able to recall every single kid I taught.
Emily nodded again. "She's outside waiting. Said she didn't want to embarrass you by coming in."
Too late for that. It's not every day a teacher gets caught just about to snog the face off her pupil's mum is it? However, having the audience of 12 year olds when it happened could make it a tad worse I suppose.
"So, can I go to HMV? I need Bluetooth earbuds."
Meghan sighed the sigh only a mother can pull off. "What happened to the last pair?"
Em shrugged, then grinned at me. "I don't have to go. I could stay here with you two instead."
I wanted to laugh, especially when Em winked at me before holding out her hand and wiggling her fingers to hurry her mum along.
"This is the last pair, okay? Next time you pay for them." Meghan placed a twenty pound note in her daughter's hand. "And I want the change."
"Okay." Em folded the note and put it inside her phone case. "Although I doubt there will be any."
Before Meghan had the chance to speak, Em kissed her mum's cheek and hugged her.
"Love you, Mum."
"Love you, too, my little opportunist."
Em sniggered and turned to me. "Lovely to see you here, Miss Perkins. I told my mum she'd love you too." Without warning, Em wrapped her arms around me and squeezed. "You're my fave teacher, Miss."
Then she released me, my mind and body still reeling from the information overload.
"Laters." And she was gone, the air between Meghan and I thick and expectant.
Meghan held her hand up and Jace slipped the tiny cup in front of her, then delivered my cup to me.
"Anything else, ladies?"
I smiled up at him. "We're good, thanks."
Then it was back to being Meghan and I and the elephant in the room.
I stirred my coffee even though I didn't add sugar, mainly to stop my hands from fidgeting. Then I picked up the cup, blew across the top of the drink before taking a sip. Not bad. Not brilliant, but not bad. Meghan, however, just stared at the piddly little amount of coffee she had in her teeny tiny cup almost as if she was wishing it to be bigger, or more interesting, or interestingly bigger.
"So." I let the word hang about, cocky in its two letters and ability to create expectation.
"It wasn't planned." Meghan lifted her gaze to meet mine. "I was on my way to Pizza Express to drop Em off with Joy and her family when Em spotted you coming in here." Meghan gave a little shrug. "She shouted you, got all excited and told me that you were the Miss Perkins she'd been telling me about since you took over her class in September."
I waited for her to continue. No point interrupting her now. I wasn't angry, or freaked out by the unfolding of events, just curious to how they transpired.
"Em told me to come in here and meet you. So, I dropped her off and came back. Before you ask, I don't always do everything my daughter wants." She chuckled softly. "If that was the case I'd have been eating pizza tonight instead of mussels, well, until she saw you that is."
If I'd have had the choice, I'd have gone for pizza instead of mussels, too. I licked my lips and was sure a hint of garlic and shellfish lingered there. I took another sip of my coffee to rid myself of the taste.
"Why didn't you go for pizza?"
"Simple. Firstly, I'd always wanted to try this place," she paused and lifted her cup to her mouth before tentatively sipping the coffee, then returned the cup back to the saucer. "However, the main reason I came back was because of you."
"Me?" The word spluttered out. "Why because of me? You didn't even know me."
"I knew of you. Knew you've inspired my daughter enough so she will actually pick up a book to read of her own free will."
"But Emily told me she loves to read. Takes after..." I laughed. "You, by all accounts."
Then it came to me like a blinding revelation. Emily Scott was the student who was always "My mum this ...My mum that," when we had a lesson in the library. At first I used to put her patter into the nervous chatter category. But then I started to listen to how her mum worked so hard as a clinical psychologist; how her father was completely out of the picture and had been since before she was born; how much she wanted her mum to have more in her life than looking after her and going to work. I always guided Emily back to the task at hand but it didn't stop her bringing it up again the next library lesson. It was quite touching, really, the way Emily thought about how to make her mum happier, something I didn't really hear from many other kids. I think that's why I listened, I think that's why she stood out.
"She's right. I do love to read. But Em thought it was a waste of time. Well, until she had you as her teacher."
A blush deliberated making an appearance, but I hoped to control it. I wasn't used to full on compliments and was unsure how to act. So my course of action was to avoid acknowledging it.
"Do you remember when I first spoke to you?"
I frowned in thought. "Yes. You said excuse me and that you were sorry to disturb me."
Meghan nodded. "I was just going to introduce myself and thank you for inspiring my daughter."
"Why didn't you do that then?" My tone wasn't accusatory, just interested.
"Yes. Ho-nestly." The butterflies, who had been silently listening to everything up to now, performed a Mexican wave of sorts and made me stagger the word.
"It was the way you looked at me. No. Not at me. You looked straight inside me. The green of your eyes was, and still is," her hand fluttered over the table before stopping short of my hand which rested just in front of my place setting, "totally captivating."
The way she said the last two words, light, airy, breathy, made me want her to repeat them so I could relive the sensation all over again. My fingers twitched, wanting to move over to where her hand waited.
Meghan released a sigh and I halted any move I was to make before it had begun.
She sighed again before continuing. "I panicked. Thought you saw my immediate attraction to you and would believe me to be a flake."
What the fuck was a flake? The only flakes I knew were either made of snow or chocolate.
Meghan groaned, her face twisting into a grimace. "Then I tried to do a runner. How bloody embarrassing!"
I remembered her being embarrassed, but thought, quite reasonably, that it was because I'd confronted her, asked her what she wanted, my tone not the friendliest.
"When I'd turned away from you I saw there were no empty tables left. For a split second I thought about leaving and going to Subway after all. But then I... well, then... I thought... erm..." Meghan picked up her coffee and had another sip, then another.
Bollocks. That's when I'd gone all feral on her arse when she'd asked if I was eating alone and I nearly delivered a Robert De Nero "you talkin' ta me?" line.
"I'm sorry about the way I spoke to you. You wanted a seat and I was rude."
Instead of agreeing or refuting my reaction, Meghan seemed to squirm.
"What's the matter?"
Meghan chewed her bottom lip, her expression almost pained.
"What's the matter?"
"I was fishing."
"Fishing?" Was this like being a flake?
"Fishing to see if you had a date, or a partner, or a significant other about to show up."
I half closed my eyes and observed the woman seated across the table from me. Her gaze was fixed on mine, those dark orbs fluid as if they were made from the espresso she was drinking. Her mouth was slightly open, those lips full and plump and ready to be kissed. However, I was having a bit of a hard time taking in what she'd said. I mean, women like Meghan Scott did not go for the likes of me. Women who were absolutely and positively breathtakingly stunning went for people who were also absolutely and positively breathtakingly stunning too didn't they?
"I think I've offended you."
I shook my head, my focus still on her face.
"Nope. Not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact." I moved my hand to finally cover hers, a tingling sensation traveling from her to me upon contact. Instead of pulling away, I squeezed gently, luxuriating in the contact. "I'm honoured that you went to so much trouble to get to know me."
The smile she blessed me with at that very moment hit my chest directly, the heat of it spreading like a promise throughout my body, igniting my want to know her, and my want for her even more.
"So. That's that cleared up. What comes next?" As I finished the question, I lifted her hand and brought it to my lips placing a tender kiss just below her knuckles. Meghan's eyes fluttered but she didn't lose contact with mine. I placed her hand back on the table but kept my own holding it. Even though I wanted to launch over any obstruction and kiss her senseless, hand holding was enough for the moment. The reason for this being self-preservation - in other words, I didn't think my heart would stand the excitement of anything more than holding hands.
"Well, if my memory serves me right, you have to pay me a forfeit for guessing your dessert."
“I think the words you used were ‘You'll have to trust me on that one.' No mention of a forfeit.”
“And that is where the trusting me bit comes in.” She turned her hand over, slipping her fingers in between mine. “Although forfeit sounds a little aggressive for what my demands are.”
“'Demands', eh?” I was very pleased with the pitch and tone of my voice. A perfect flirting combination, one I hoped she noticed.
Meghan squeezed my hand then pulled me toward her, the action fluid. Those dark eyes were even more mesmerising close up and I had the urge to ignore my previous thoughts of self-preservation and capture her mouth with my own.
Those two words uttered by her elicited an unbidden groan from me. I couldn't help it. Couldn't stop it. Didn't want to help it or stop it. Meghan did things to me that I don't think anyone else has ever done just by the sound of her voice. Tingles raced throughout me and I loved every moment of it, every sensation crafted and created by her presence. It wasn't just that she was beautiful, sensual and desirable, it was what I'd found out about her already. She was a loving mother, had a sense of humour, was intelligent and witty and kind and thoughtful. Meghan Scott was the kind of woman people like me could only ever dream about. The fact that she voted Conservative, liked mussels in garlic and could guess my dessert choices by reading my character were things I could live with, although I would definitely be working on her political persuasion.
I licked my lips before speaking, glorifying in her reaction to my action.
“Demand away.” Who wouldn't say that to this beautiful woman? I know I have thought myself to be an idiot in the past, called myself many different monikers that all meant I was a sandwich short of a picnic when it came to social interaction with beautiful women, but not now. Now I was in control of the pitch of my voice, the intonation, the words coming out. If I wasn't so engrossed in the moment with Meghan, I would've been celebrating with myself for being normal at last.
“My demand, or should I change that to reward? Yes.” Meghan grinned and nodded. “Reward sounds so much better than demand.”
I wanted to hurry her along, tell her to spit it out, but that'd mean me losing that sense of control I'd just found within myself. So I waited.
“The reward I want is to do this again.”
“Do this again? Guess my pudding?” In two simple sentences I'd once again become a twat. And the reason why I knew this? Meghan laughed. And why did this make me a twat all over again? Because by her laughing, I knew I'd misunderstood her point and announced to her that I'd misunderstood it.
However, I didn't really care. I just laughed along with her.
“You are adorable.”
Those three words stopped me laughing as the feeling my chest was set to explode and there was no room for laughter at this moment.
“I mean, the reward I want is to have dinner with you again. Whether it is here or somewhere else of your choice, but dinner. Or lunch. I don't care what I eat, where I eat or when I eat it. Just to spend time with you is my reward.” She gave my hand a small squeeze. “What I'm trying to say is will you come on a date with me?”
Meghan closed her eyes and I watched her inhale a breath before opening her eyes and exhaling slowly.
“The full three courses and coffee experience?”
“Definitely the full three courses and coffee experience.”
“And how was your full three courses and coffee experience today ladies?”
I don't know how long Jace had been waiting to join in our conversation, but his voice interrupting us did make me jump slightly.
“Can I get you anything else? More coffee? Wine?”
However much I didn't want to say the next bit, I knew I had to. I smiled at Meghan before shifting my look onto the waiter.
“We're good, Jace, thank you. Just the bill please.”
He nodded, smiled and left.
The asking for the bill was always an indication that the evening was over, the dinner having been consumed and the social niceties were coming to a close. I didn't want that to be the case. I didn't want to bid Meghan adieu. It was still early, only just turned seven, definitely too early to call it a night and go home.
“So, can I get your number?”
No wonder I really liked this woman. She was a thinker, a doer, a mind reader and a looker.
Without any more preamble, I pulled my phone from my bag.
“Sure. I'll text you. What's your number?”
Meghan grinned and held up her phone. I hadn't even seen her get it out.
I'd like to add she was also a magician to her list of qualities.
After Dinner Sweetness
Jace brought only one bill so we just split the cost down the middle. We'd had pretty much the same throughout the meal and the difference was neither here nor there. We both tipped Jace, too, his face lighting up with the gesture. I wanted to tell him that he should invest in drawing lessons with the money but decided that haemorrhoid shaped mistletoe could be the new black come 2017. Maybe he should patent the idea.
As we stepped outside, Norwich was still buzzing with shoppers. The Christmas lights leading down to St Stephen's Church perfectly matched the season of joy and celebration; the faces of the people passing us illustrating cheer and good will to all. And, for once, I felt part of it. Felt as if all my worries about not being able to magic the essence of Christmas dissolve and fizzle away. The air was full of optimism, full of love and goodwill to all men. All my thoughts of being alone, lost, hurt and unworthy faded, like my worries, into nothingness. Maybe meeting Meghan was the catalyst to thrust me into wanting to embrace the season; maybe I just realised that life was made up of little surprises, little gestures of kindness, sharing moments with people that build memories of not just what Christmas should be about, but what every day should consist of in an ideal world.
“You've got my number. I'll be waiting to hear from you.” Meghan placed her hand on my arm as she said it, the heat of her seeping into me. “I know you're probably busy over Christmas, but …” She shrugged, her smile widening. “Whenever, okay?”
“Don't worry, I will be calling. Or, if you want, you can always call me. It is your prize after all.”
Meghan's smile slipped slightly.
“What's the matter? You having second thoughts?”
She shook her head.
“What is it then?”
Meghan scrunched her mouth, and I knew she wanted to tell me something. My new found Christmas spirit slipped slightly and I gritted my teeth a little.
“I've a confession to make.”
She's married. Involved with someone. Leading me on. Playing a trick – I knew it was too good to be true. Amazing how quickly I can go from ecstatic to despair – whatever the time of year. It's a talent I possess. Unfortunately.
“About my reward, your forfeit.”
She can't be backing out already. She's only just mentioned me calling her . I looked at where her hand still lay on my arm, the heat still there, the intention still obvious. No. She couldn't be. Could she?
“Cheat … What?”
“I didn't read your mind, read your character, read anything but the menu.”
“But, you?” My voice was disbelieving, and a little too loud. A couple of people passing looked our way, their interests peaked. They probably thought Meghan and I were on the verge of a Christmas scrap, the emotions of the season overwhelming our judgement and ability to be rational.
“When you asked if I wanted dessert, you'd been holding the menu.”
“Maybe. I don't …”
“Then, when you placed it on the table in front of you, you were pointing at Crème Brûlée. I noticed when I leaned over and tapped on Rum Baba. It's just above your dessert of choice on the menu.”
Bugger. It was like having dinner with a younger, sexier Miss Marple. I remembered noting that her finger was just above my own, even though my heart had been thumping frantically and my mouth had become devoid of all moisture at the time.
“So. I still get to go on a date with you. What's the problem?”
Meghan grinned and stepped closer, her face inches from mine. “I just wanted to be upfront and honest. No point starting a relationship with me making you think I'm something I'm not.”
“Fair point.” My voice was low, thick with a need to kiss this perfect woman in front of me, the only thing stopping me was the fear of her thinking I was moving too fast.
Meghan pulled back, her eyes holding mine for a moment before she broke our gaze. Her hand left its place on my arm letting the cold air congregate around the area, illuminating that it was now without her touch. I watched, transfixed, as she slipped her fingers inside her pocket and pulled out a napkin, the red writing of Café Rouge obvious.
I frowned, unsure what was happening. Meghan unfolded the napkin to expose the mark of a pen on the white, then the outline of what could, at a push, be described as mistletoe, but in reality looked more like haemorrhoids.
“A present from Jace.” Her tone held amusement and something else. I was willing it to be expectation, but that, actually, could've been just how I was feeling.
She lifted the napkin into the air between us.
“Although the plant is parasitic by nature, it is also a tradition that if we meet under a sprig of mistletoe, we must share a kiss or bad luck will befall us both for the rest of our lives.”
I didn't answer. I just closed the gap between us, my mouth capturing hers, the softness addictive. I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her to me, our kiss developing, our lips working together in perfect harmony. Meghan pressed closer, her torso flush against mine, her arm holding the mistletoe dropping to land on my shoulder. Emotions were raging within me, all of them wonderful, all of them focused on this moment, this woman, this kiss. Her other hand threaded through my hair making me want even more of her, making me need even more of her, more of this.
In all of my life I have never been kissed so perfectly, so thoroughly. More importantly, I knew that for the rest of my life I would never want another woman to try to match it. It was as if this kiss had shown me what I had been missing, shown me what I needed. I squeezed her to me, my other hand slipping up between us to cup her cheek, to hold her face as I continued to become more and more lost in Meghan Scott, more and more absorbed in this woman who had blown me away.
But, as all kisses must, we began to slow things down. Our lips separated, and moved back to softly place delicate kisses, the urge to repeat our first kiss insistent and glorious.
We pulled away, our eyes meeting, the look transferring a promise of more kisses like this, more moments to share. I was totally absorbed by her, by all that is her.
Meghan turned to the side, her arm still on my shoulder, her fingers still in my hair.
“Hey Em. Did you get your headphones?”
I stiffened, unsure how Emily would react to seeing her mother snogging her teacher in the middle of the pavement.
“Nah. Joy said I could try hers. No point buying without trying first is there?”
“Thank you, Joy.”
Bloody hell. How many more students will I entertain with my kissing of a woman outside Chapelfield Shopping Centre?
I turned to see Emily, Joy and Joy's parents standing in a row as if they were either going to sing carols or take photos so they could examine my form later in the comfort of their own home.
“Hey.” I went for acting cool. Went for the “I do this all of the time. No big deal” performance . “You girls having a good night?”
Emily grinned at me, the hint of mischief clear. “Yeah. Looks as if you two are as well.”
Fair cop. Well played. I asked for that.
Meghan laughed and turned to me sporting the same look of mischievousness as her daughter. “As the kids of today say ‘We've been owned'.”
She gave me another squeeze and moved back, the coolness between us only generated by the air.
“Mr and Mrs Taylor, I'd like to introduce you to Lilly Perkins, Joy and Em's English teacher.” They nodded and smiled and murmured hellos, shyness seeming to overwhelm them. That or the fact they had just seen two women kissing in public. One of the two. Or maybe there were more reasons, but at that moment, I didn't care.
And the reason I didn't care? Not because I was besotted with the gorgeous woman who had given me her number and one of the best kisses I'd ever experienced. Not because I didn't usually kiss on a first date, never mind when I'm not even on a date. Not even because I had just been caught kissing in front of two students and their family. It was more simple than that.
It was the carrier bags the Taylor's were holding. It didn't even matter what shop name was emblazoned over them that made me not care how I was to be received. The fact was that I was devoid of shopping bags – I didn't even have the one. Not even one from Poundland with a pack of batteries in it. I'd bought no presents. Not one. Nil. Nada. Zip. Presentless. The reason why I had come into the city was to get my gifts and all I had ended up doing was cancelling everything I'd ordered online, raced around the shops dissing everything I saw, then staggering into Café Rouge, initially to just have a quick drink, maybe a bite of something light before heading out into the masses again.
“Oh my good God!” The words were out without thought.
“What's the matter? What's happened?” Meghan cupped my elbow and turned me to face her, blocking the view of the others.
“I haven't done my Christmas shopping yet.” The words came out almost in a hiss as if I was worried that everyone would only realise I was a moron if I told them. Lifting my hand, I pushed the cuff of my jacket back to reveal my watch. “It's seven thirty and I haven't even started yet.”
Meghan started to laugh then realised I was not joining in. Panic started to collect in my chest, the idea of choosing inappropriate gifts swelling inside me like a curse. I had the urge to run to Claus Ohlson to see if they had a digital nutrition scale, the worry about what my brother-in-law thought of the gift not a priority.
“Give me five minutes, okay?” Meghan's voice was controlled, authoritative. “Let me sort these lot out and I'm all yours.”
She turned to face the Taylors and Em, her smile wide and full, and not for the first time that evening had I thought what a gorgeous woman she was. The panic I'd been feeling evaporated. I knew, just by looking at her, that everything was going to be fabulous.
Breakfast and Beyond
It was one day before the big day and I was expectant. It was eight o'clock in the morning and I was waiting outside Café Rouge once again. Meghan and Emily are meeting me for breakfast and then we are going Christmas shopping for my gifts. Meghan had sent me home the previous evening with the job of making a list of all the presents I needed and where we had to go to buy them.
I've decided to get my brother-in-law the digital nutrition scales after speaking to my sister, who assured me he'd love them. I've also decided that Clarins was a good choice for my sister after all, but a selection of different products instead of the focus being on age. Yes. We all get older, but sometimes sensitivity to the process for others is a good idea. Tact was my new goal, something I am going to work on from now on.
But, as we all know, it is not about the actual gift; it is about the giving of something you know the person will want in his or her life. This gift doesn't have to be a physical object; the best ones never are. Christmas is about family, friends, showing those you love that you love them. Whether this will happen through thoughtful gestures or gift giving, as long as love is the root of it, we can't possibly go wrong. Love is never something we will take back the store the day after Boxing Day stating “It is too small”, “It doesn't fit”, “It doesn't suit me”, “I want my money back.”
Love, you see, is free. Freely given, freely received. You can't wrap it or contain it inside a box however pretty the bow. It is abstract, invisibly visible in the world around us if we only choose to open our eyes, hearts and minds to it.
And my eyes are well and truly open. And my heart, and my mind. Today is the day where I start living, where I start moving forward with my life.
I read on the internet once, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the present that's why they call it a gift.”
Meghan Scott is my present, my gift, my reason to be grinning stupidly as I wait in the cold on 24 December outside a bistro.
I also hope… no, not hope. I know she is my tomorrow, all of my tomorrows, too.
Now that's a gift that keeps on giving.
If you like this, let me know. I need encouragement as I have the tendency to be lazy. And, to be honest, writing keeps me out of trouble. Sometimes.
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