‘How are you? Well, I hope, and happy. I hope this message doesn’t come as too much of a shock. It’s been an awfully long time since we last saw each other, I realise. I left your life rather abruptly. Perhaps that was for the best (back then I didn’t spend a lot of time considering other people’s feelings) but if not, I’m sorry…’
The words danced across the page. Anna raced down the rest of the message. Douglas apologised profusely for all the wrong things he had done. There certainly were enough of those. In their three year relationship, he’d lied to her several times – elaborate fanciful creations that made the often quite minor crime so much worse.
‘I’m not angry about the fact you forgot to get tickets’, she’d shouted once when one of his fabrications unravelled at the seams. ‘It’s the fact that you covered it up, you looked into my eyes and swore blind that you had got them and they were just at Andy’s house. You got angry with me because I didn’t believe you.’
He’d hung his head shamefully, looking so contrite that she’d clicked her teeth in irritation. It was like remonstrating with a five year old.
He’d cadged money all the time. Not even an arranged loan, but a fiver here, a tenner there until by the time she’d called time on their relationship he owed her nearly a grand. She’d also caught him dipping his hand into her purse a couple of times and once, in a fit of desperation, using her bank card so he could buy his mum a birthday present.
What really soured things past the point of no repair was the last summer where he’d been a barman for a fortnight at an arts festival. Natalie, a dancer from one of the shows, flicked her long dark hair seductively at him. Freed from the constraints of his life at home, where he still wasn’t a published novelist and the debts were mounting, he pulled the pints and her with equal ease, wooing her with his not inconsiderable wit. When the bar finally closed, Douglas somehow found herself in her tent, where the inevitable happened.
They had limped on for another few months after that, but Anna knew it was a question of when rather than if. It was hard to give up though, when he could be so loving, so thoughtful, so convinced that they belonged together. When all her friends were settling down. When she liked his friends so much.
And now, seven years after he’d stormed out of her flat for the last time, he’d emailed. He’d stopped drinking. Been attending AA meetings. He knew from a mutual acquaintance that she’d moved to Oxford. Perhaps he could meet her for a coffee at some point…? Apologise in person for the wrong he had done.
The words blurred, Anna’s eyes brimming from the hurt he’d caused. Still vulnerable after all this time. A few years back, she’d thought about closing that email account, just in case he got in touch, decided not to when she realised she wasn’t angry any
more. She could ignore the message. He said he wouldn’t pursue it if she didn’t want to see him.
Douglas jiggled his oversized cup on his saucer. He liked coffee, but he didn’t need a cup the size of a spaceship. He flicked his wrist to check the time, realised he’d left his watch in the bathroom at home, thought about checking it on his phone, decided not to. She’d either come or she wouldn’t. He’d hadn’t been at all sure that she’d even answer his message. Her reply to him had been muted. It would be good to meet, she’d said. He had behaved ‘despicably’, but she’d allowed him to. Nothing was completely one-sided. It sounded as if she had gained more confidence. He drummed his bitten nails on the table, foot tapping impatiently, wishing he could have a fag. Perhaps she’d been delighted to receive his message, perhaps they would talk as they had done in the early days before he….He snorted at his ridiculous over-excitement, building castles in the air.
And then there she was, regarding him quizzically. He stood up awkwardly. Should he kiss her cheek, attempt a hug? Perhaps that two-handed kind of handshake thing politicians did to show how sincere they were. Before he could decide, she pecked him and sat down.
‘Thanks for coming’, he said sitting down quickly. ‘You look great. You haven’t changed a bit.’
She couldn’t say the same in return. He’d lost some hair, gained some wrinkles. Seven years hard living took their toll.
‘I was curious,’ she replied. ‘I wanted some closure, I suppose the Americans would call it.’ She wrapped her hands round her cup, so her engagement ring was visible.
He gulped. He didn’t know quite what he’d been expecting, but she sounded so composed, while his heart was thudding. She was so lovely, beautiful inside and out.
‘I’m so sorry’, he said. ‘I was an idiot.’
She nodded. ‘Thank you. You usually made me feel like I was the one in the wrong. I couldn’t fix your problems. It was my fault that you were depressed. If I tried to talk to you about it I was nagging. Or I didn’t understand.’
‘Yeah’, he whispered. He’d had so much to say, but he couldn’t get any of it out. ‘I never stopped loving you,’ he blurted.
‘I did’, she said quietly. ‘There was too much wrong.’
They talked for another twenty minutes, exchanging news on jobs held, families and friends remembered. She got up first.
‘It’s been good’, she said. ‘I’ve got to get back to the studio though. Got to finish editing by six. Maybe do this again?’
She pecked him again, then was gone, leaving him contemplating the cold dregs in his cup, feeling the loss more keenly than he had seven years before.