So does it still hurt? she asks.
Of course it does. Perhaps not quite in the same way it did at first. I was married to her for a long time.
She smiles in the darkness of her bedroom, and lifts her hand from beneath the bedding, placing it gently on his naked shoulder. Come here, she says, and he rolls towards her, his hands on both her shoulders and his lips finding hers.
Well, she says afterwards. What do you think?
What do you mean?
Are we… you know. Are we an item now?
He reaches behind and feels for the light switch. You mean are we a couple now?
I don’t think we could say that, no. Give it time.
He can see her disappointment. How long do you need?
I don’t know. I don’t even know if I want to be part of a couple. Can’t we just say we’re enjoying it at the moment?
She sweeps back the bedding and rolls out of the bed, standing and looking at him.
He realises that he had upset her. I’m sorry, he says. I don’t want to upset you. I just think it makes sense to take it slowly and let things grow. Or not, he adds, and the smile he had seen beginning on her lips chills again, drawing them into a thin line.
She looks away, takes her dressing gown from the back of her chair and slides her arms into it. Or not? What does that mean?
He sighs deeply. Look, I like you. We’ve had fun. But I don’t really know you, do I? And you don’t know me, either. Can’t we just take it easy, one step at a time? Maybe it’ll work out, maybe not.
You mean you want to come here any time you like, but you’re not committed to anything.
You could look at it like that. Or you could say let’s see what happens. Enjoy it while we can.
And end up with what?
Hello? he says.
Okay, he tells her. I didn’t think I’d hear from you again after last week.
She is silent.
She doesn’t answer.
You want me to come round?
Well, yes. If you want me to. I mean, I don’t want to twist your arm or anything. But if you want me to come, I’ll come. I expect it’ll be fun.
See, that’s the trouble. You just want to have fun, and I guess I want something more. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
He thinks about it for a few seconds. Not really. I want to have fun, and I want you to have fun. But it could turn out to be something more, and I’m open to that.
And if that doesn’t happen?
Well, at least we’ll have enjoyed finding out.
You’re sounding like a teenager. This is serious. To me, anyway.
I’m coming round. I’ll be there in half an hour.
He rings the bell, and wonders while he waits if this is such a good idea. The hall light comes on and a few seconds later she opens the door. She doesn’t look happy.
She turns without speaking, and leads the way into her kitchen.
They sit at either side of the table. She pours scotch into two tumblers, and passes him one of them. Water? he says.
She points to the sink. He gets up and half-fills the tumbler. He takes a small sip and sits again.
You’re not happy.
Can’t say I’m overjoyed either, at this particular moment. Want to talk it out, or maybe just get drunk?
A little smile crosses her lips. Not get drunk, she says.
Okay. So let’s start from the beginning: we’re both single. We each have a house, but our partners have buggered off. I’m lonely, and I guess you are too, or you wouldn’t be sitting here looking daggers at me.
She really smiles at that.
You want something permanent, but you don’t seem to want that to develop… you want it right now. I’m not going to make anything permanent until I’ve checked it out, and seen that it might work. So we seem to be at an impasse.
Is that what you call it? An impasse?
That’s the way it seems to me. We each want a different outcome, but neither of us want to change things.
She frowns and looks down at the glass in front of her.
How about a compromise? he suggests. How about we both agree to go back to having fun like we were having in the first couple of months. I promise to commit for… I don’t know, say two months? Just to see how it goes?
That’ll be really hard, though, won’t it? For me, at least. She sips her scotch, but is clearly brightening, warming to the idea of the compromise.
Yeah, I guess it will be, he says. But, you know, if we both make the effort…
Why not make it longer? Why not a year?
He thinks about it. In some ways it would be okay. He really does like her, likes being with her, even likes her two children. At first they had had a great time together, and it was only when she began to get, well..., possessive, that he felt the need to pull away. And secretly, though he wasn’t actually considering this, but it was the basic truth: they might make an agreement about this sort of compromise, but really there would be nothing to stop him pulling out any time.
I’m not trying to be difficult about it, he tells her. Let’s make it six months at a time.
What’s she got to loose? she asks herself. Would you move in with me, then, if we decided on six months?
Oh hell. Here comes the crunch. Look, he says, you know as well as I do that if I were to move in with you, then after even just six months you could claim half of everything I own, and I couldn’t have that. It would work both ways, too, so I could claim half of everything you own.
I don’t think that’s right. She stares hard at him. I don’t really know, but I thought it was two years. That’s when it becomes a de facto relationship. Anyway, she says, I wouldn’t claim against you.
You say that now, but the circumstances might have changed. Probably would.
What do you suggest, then?
We could find out what the legal position would be. And until we do we could each live in our own house. In fact, that would probably be for the best anyway. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.
I’m not sure that’s what it’s supposed to mean, she says, but there is a sparkle in her eye, and a smile on her lips.
So shall we try that, then?
She drains her glass, and plonks it down on the table. Okay, she says. Okay. So we have a sort of contract until… oh let’s say mid November. We’re a couple until then.
How about we round it off and make it until December?
Right, she says. She looks at the clock on the wall. So will you stay the night?
How about the children? He says. Or do I sneak out at dawn before they wake up?
Mmm. I see what you mean. Perhaps…
No, how about I sneak out at dawn this time, but we work out what we’re going to do about the children over the next few days. Don’t want to give them the wrong idea, do we?
You mean the wrong idea if we only get to stay together until December?
Well, he says. That’s right.
They both stand and he goes to her and holds her lightly for a minute. She leans back, looking at him. Can I trust you? she says.
He kisses her again, smiles. What do you think?
She takes his hand and leads him to the stairs. Yeah, she says. I'm pretty sure I can.