When David came to stay with me for my Birthday Weekend, I kept thinking my real present was going to materialise, but it never did. Then, standing in front of the fire, the night before he was due to go home to London, David suddenly said:
‘About this ring…’
‘Well, if I were to buy you a ring, what sort would you like? You hated the last one because it had claws.’
‘No, I hated it because it wasn’t expensive enough.’
I was shocked he’d mentioned buying a ring, as he hadn’t even brought champagne. And also, crucially, he hasn’t proposed. I think my ‘yes’ from the last time he asked when we were on a mini-break in Paris five years ago has gone past its sell-by date. I wonder if he’s too scared to propose again. Or is it a ring, but not an engagement ring? I’m reminded of when I was married, and my husband suddenly came into some money, having published his first novel, and took me to a jeweller in Soho so I could choose a ring (he’d never given me an engagement ring, while I’d paid for our wedding bands). I chose one. ‘Oh no,’ he’d said. ‘That’s too bridey. How about this friendship one?’
I had to be in London by midday on Monday for work, so we left North Yorkshire at 5am. David sweetly made sandwiches. I’d booked a vegan suite that night at the Hilton Bankside – bamboo carpet, hemp pillows, headboard fashioned out of pineapple leaves, vegan wine – and told him that there was no need for him to join me, as he must be tired and his cat must be lonely.
‘Oh no, I’ll come too,’ he said.
I sat in the bar that evening, waiting for him. When he spotted me, his face lit up. He is always so pleased to see me. He was wearing a very large brown leather jacket. I’m pretty sure the vegan suite wouldn’t allow it.
‘What do you think?’ he said, smiling and almost twirling.
I was about to tell him it was too big for him, and way too wintry, but his shiny, tiny eyes stopped me. And thank God they did. It turns out that the jacket belonged to his best friend (and best man), who had recently died. ‘It was all he left to me.’
His best friend was a lovely man who lived next door in Brixton with David when I had first fallen in love with him 36 years ago. He always idolised David, who back then was dynamic and glamorous, and he was my partner-in-crime when I was trying to get David to go out with me. ‘Where is he going?’ I’d ask, after I’d spied David’s retreating back loping down the road towards the tube. ‘Does he even know I exist?’
‘I’m sure he does,’ he’d say reassuringly. ‘It’s just that as you live next door, he’s worried it will be awkward when he dumps you. Which he surely will.’
Stroking his jacket now, I said, ‘What did he make of you going out with me after all this time?’
‘He said he thought you were really good for me.’
‘Never mind that. The question is, are you good for me?’
We didn’t have sex that night, given I was exhausted*. All that longing back in 1983, and now I’m relieved when he starts snoring and I can overdose on Celebrity MasterChef. I gave him the breakfast menu. I love breakfast menus: it’s like writing a letter to Santa. He screwed up his face, ‘But there’s no milk! I want a normal cappuccino!’
He was like this in Farmacy, the organic, plant-based restaurant in Notting Hill that is all about wellness: there are so many mums and nannies with prams, I often get entangled, like a dolphin in a net. ‘Can I have a Coke?’ he’d asked the baffled waitress.
To be honest, I’m surprised his friend, almost a decade younger, died first, considering David smokes, doesn’t exercise, eats Revels, and has never drunk a glass of water in his life. I once asked if he’s on some sort of death wish, given when we re-met he rode a motorbike.
‘I was, until I fell in love with you. Now I have a reason to live.’
Dear God. What a responsibility. I can’t dump him now, can I?
*And the fact I, crucially, had not had an extreme bikini wax.