I’m back. I’m staying with my friend while my cottage is being renovated and had told her I was meeting a man for lunch. She spots my car and leans out of her window, desperate for news. ‘Wow!’ she says, almost toppling out. ‘That’s a big box.’
I tell her my gift is a wallet, a silk scarf and something else which if I tell you what it is you will guess his brand. Beautiful.
‘Well. He’s intelligent, has had a very interesting life: we were chatting for three hours. He insisted on paying. His car is amazing. Red. Nice teeth. Hair. Reminds me of Alan Titchmarsh. But he is small.’
‘All rich men are small,’ she says wisely. ‘That doesn’t matter.’ I had been so nervous that morning I felt nauseous. Anxiety spoils everything, even the prospect of lunch at a country house hotel with my dogs and a new man. I got to the restaurant early so that I could listen to my mindfulness recording. ‘Be aware of your breath… You are at a crossroads. You can choose the old, well-trodden path, or a new one where you are calmer.’ There was a huge canvas canopy over the tables, trees groaning with fruit, lavender: it was almost like being in Tuscany.
I ordered a Coke and waited. I thought I’d forgotten what he looked like from our drink eight years ago, but as soon as he arrived, I remembered. Huge blue eyes. I could tell he fancied me as he couldn’t stop smiling. I asked him to name that collie and he did. He gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek, which I’m sure is against the law but no sirens went off. He handed me the box, and gave the dogs chews, which meant they started wrestling.
‘Did you hear the roar of the Maserati as I drove up?’ he asked.
‘No, sorry,’ I said, spoiling the moment. ‘I should have turned up my hearing aids.’
I asked why he’s single, and he said what usually happens is he is with a woman, and then he immediately wants her to leave. He was living with a woman when I was on Celebrity Big Brother, and she wouldn’t let him watch it as he would be lusting after me. The thought of any man lusting after me seems improbable. He asked about David; I’m not sure if he noticed I’m wearing my engagement ring as I can’t get it off. I think my knuckles put on weight during lockdown.
‘He was obsessed, jealous,’ was all I said, as surely he knows.
‘You look more beautiful every time I see you,’ he said. I was wearing a Navygrey pink V-neck sweater and toothpick jeans. ‘Stand up,’ he said. So I did. ‘See. I’m not like Bernie Ecclestone.’
It’s true. He’s not. I must remember to be kinder with this one. He said he is driving north to see an ex, but staying in a hotel. And that he would love to go for a walk with me and the collies on Friday if I’m free. Out of respect, he ate vegan. I could convert the world, one boyfriend at a time.
After lunch, he walked me to my car. I had to apologise for the fact Gracie has chewed the interior and it smells. It was nice to have someone help with the dog leads, the box. I started to wonder for the first time in my life how it would feel to be looked after. I’ve railed against it for so long, but now it just seems easy. Like sinking into a bean bag.
Even as I drive away, he’s texting. ‘What an amazing woman! I felt sad as the four of you drove off. I can’t wait until Friday. x’
I thanked him for the gifts and lunch, and he shot back, ‘Champagne at my hotel tonight if you’d like (don’t panic)?’
Oh God. Walk in wellies or cocktails in a bar? What does everyone think? I’m mired in the land of indecision…
I text Nic. ‘Champagne!’