Better to Have Loved

‘The thing is,’ she started, ‘I need to know how... you know, how serious you are?’

They were seated in the corner, in a little booth beside the window that looked out over the street. The sandwich shop was only half full; nevertheless, there was a background babble of conversation going on around them, and they kept their voices low.

He looked at her earnestly. She was a smasher, he thought; he had never shagged a woman as good looking as this one. When he was with her heads turned to look at them, and he knew he held his head higher, proud to be the one holding her hand, while all the losers looked on with their tongues almost hanging out.

He was holding her hand across the table, leaning forward. Their heads almost touched, and he could smell the delicious odour that had nothing to do with perfume and everything to do with her body, an odour so compelling that he found himself almost dizzy with lust, though they had been at it just an hour ago. He looked directly into her eyes, trying to look as convincing as possible. ‘Oh, I’m pretty serious,’ he said, and he knew that he had hit the spot just right, timing impeccable, that split-second pause that indicated the sincerity that she needed so much.

She lowered her eyes and smiled almost to herself, blushing just a little, gratified that she had the answer she had been seeking. She squeezed his fingers.

She was much older than he, nearly fifteen years older. She knew that might be a problem in the future, but that would be so far from where they were now that she could ignore it, she thought. All her friends, and she had a great number of them, envied her the acquisition of the younger man, calling him her Toy Boy, at which she smiled in a sort of triumph. She could pull them, no doubt about that.

‘How serious?’ she asked. She wasn’t a fool; she knew only too well that guys lied about it, anything to get their end away. On the other hand this one was so young, so honest looking, so fresh, that she thought she might be able to believe what he said. It was a bit too soon, of course, but time would tell.

They’d only been an item for a couple of months, after all. But what a couple of months it had been! She had never felt so excited, so exhilarated, so... hot. But she needed to know, to know how much she could afford to invest in this one, this sun-bleached blond, this body sculpted by the forces of nature and hours at the gym, this brain so much sharper than her own, this... this Adonis: she had read about Adonis.

This would be the tricky bit, he knew: promise too much and she’d lose all faith in him; hold back too much and she’d be gone. She was going to be pretty demanding, he knew that much already. Under the table the index finger of his left hand moved under the middle finger. ‘Honey,’ he told her, still looking deeply into her eyes, ‘I don’t know.’ He felt her stiffen just that fraction, her fingertips somehow freezing, her eyes narrowing. ‘I think I already feel something for you that I’ve never felt for another girl.’ He knew she liked it when he called her a girl, watching her melt a little, coy and happy. ‘But it’s more than that.’ He paused and released her hand, sipping his coffee thoughtfully.

What more than that? he asked himself. Come on, what more is it? He replaced his coffee and took her hand again; she hadn’t moved it, just left it on the table between them as though she was reaching out for him, supplicating.

‘There’s everything else, too.’ He leaned closer, until his lips were nearly touching her ear. ‘There’s your body,’ he told her in a whisper. ‘I don’t want to sound too crass, but it’s important to men. You have the body of an angel.’ He was pleased with that, and she was, too... at least half of her girlfriends were packing the weight on, especially the married ones. And the other half were starving themselves, and looked it. She was proud of her body, proud of the way she had kept it just right - a lovely, soft, curvy body with marvellous hair, just like you see it in the ads. Lips that needed no lipstick (though she never went out without it), and no Botox, either. Breasts that remained in place even after he had removed her bra, nipples that crinkled deliciously when he touched them. She knew only too well what blokes want, and she had it in plenty.

‘But I won’t always have such a great body,’ she protested. ‘What happens then?’

‘We’ll be too old to worry about it,’ he said with a leer.

‘Not you,’ she told him. ‘You’ll never be too old, you randy young bugger.’ She giggled happily, and he joined her, their heads rubbing together, noses touching, eyes closed.

‘I’ll never be too old for you, that’s for sure,’ he told her.

They were both getting warm in their heavy clothing, the atmosphere in the sandwich shop growing more humid as the tables filled. It was a freezing day outside, the plate-glass beside them beading over with condensation. He leaned back and shook his shoulders out of his thick coat, letting it lie untidily behind him. She stood and removed her coat, a lovely russet thing that set off her honey blonde hair to perfection. She folded it carefully, and draped it over the back of the spare chair beside her. ‘You should take more care of your clothes,’ she told him. ‘That coat must have cost a bomb.’ He smiled and ignored her comment.

As she had removed her coat every male eye in the place swivelled towards her as though guided by Radar. She was wearing a plain maroon blouse, the top three buttons of which were open. Around her neck she wore a plain black necklace from which hung a large blood-red pendant, perhaps a Madagascar ruby, but then again perhaps not. Whatever the case, the stone accentuated her deep tan which, in the middle of winter, indicated either long, sun-drenched holidays or dedicated use of sun-tanning studios. Her large breasts swelled into the opening of her blouse in a rather delicious way, he thought. She didn’t need to look around the shop to be aware of the reaction she caused. She was used to it.

‘I’ve been wondering if you wouldn’t like to move in with me,’ she said, lowering her gaze and disguising it by sipping from her coffee.

Of course she’d want him to move in, they always did. He had nothing against sharing her place, and in fact a few weeks of that might be fun. She had a terrific apartment, plenty of room, just a block from the beach, plenty of parking under... it was tempting. But it made it a bloody sight harder to break it off when he had had enough. Make a joke of it, but make sure you promise nothing, he told himself.

‘Signed a year’s lease just before I met you,’ he lied. ‘Tell you what, let’s see if we can get someone to take over the lease. Can’t be that hard.’

She looked at him dubiously. ‘How come we’ve never been up to your place?’

‘My flat mate,’ he said. ‘He’s bloody mad, kicks up a stink if I have people up. I can’t even leave a paper on the coffee table without him carrying on. Dunno why I ever went into that joint lease with him.’

She sighed. ‘Well, I suppose we could try. It’s just that, well, I reckon I’ve really fallen for you.’

He raised his eyes in what he hoped was a comical fashion. ‘They all do,’ he said. ‘Bane of my life it is, my boyish charm.’

‘No seriously...’

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. ‘No need to panic, love. I feel pretty much the same as you do.’ She turned her face to one side, looking out the window dreamily with his cheek against hers.

A month or two at most, he thought. Well, she was worth it, easily. ‘Look at us,’ he said, pointing to their reflection in the window, ‘like a couple of love-birds. Listen, why don’t we go back to your place... It’s not really very private here, is it?’

Why not, she thought. She hugged him and nodded silently, standing and slipping her coat back on. Eyes swivelled again. Holding his hand, she led him towards the door.

He uncrossed his fingers.