‘I don’t blame you, for being surprised.’ I said to Andrew.
I had to break the silence somehow. Was it his first-date nerves? He appeared suddenly awkward when he saw how I had dressed. My costume, as he called it when trying to compliment me.
Almost wordlessly, we hurried to the Pizzeria.
Admittedly even eye-contact was difficult. My veil seemed thicker now I was outside. You see, I’d got it into my head that he liked a femme fatale. God knows I’m hopeless at flirting, but I chose to make an effort: a little black dress, excruciating high heeled shoes and this alluring film star hat with a veil.
In Pizza Express I lifted the black netting. I could tell it had made him nervous.
‘I told Alison I wanted to ask you out.’
‘She said,’ I interrupted quickly, ‘that in her assessment—that was her exact word—you would agree to go out with almost anyone.’
His eyes narrowed.
‘She meant it as a compliment.’
‘Of course,’ he said, touching the back of his hand on the corner of his mouth, a sort of self-comforting gesture.
‘Listen!’ I said. ‘Seeing as I am more than just an anyone I hoped I might start something: something between us.’
The waitress arrived. Andrew immediately ordered an American Hot pizza, and then pretended to be absorbed in the laces of his trainers.
Admittedly, our clothes were mismatched. I was so used to seeing him around the office in that trusty charcoal suit, that I had never imagined he would dress so casually at the weekend. He wore a black hoodie, with the words Banana Republic printed on it. It did him few favours, making me notice the wizened aspect his face had assumed over recent years, and highlighted the speckles of the dandruff.
I smiled at him encouragingly.
‘I know there are plenty of claims on your time, such as tending to your carnivorous plants.’
Andrew brightened. One of his hands made a pleased little seizing motion.
‘How did you—’
I smiled enigmatically. The truth was I had happened to see his screen as he was surreptitiously purchasing a pot of cape sundews online at work. But the truth had no use here.
I held my breath. If he wanted to discuss them, would last Sunday’s rapid study of The Savage Garden be enough?
My companion chewed some garlic bread, which he had cut in half with a knife and fork. His body language, however, had transformed. His upper body was leaning towards me, eyes bulging eagerly.
I summoned my courage.
‘I asked you here,’ I said, ‘because I have a confession.’
I registered his cautious expression, but plunged on regardless.
‘You know I retire next week,’ I said, ‘and I know you’re retiring in November and…’ I started again. ‘Well the thing is I still have a lust for life. I still have, shall we say, my appetites. The simple fact is, Andrew, I’ve asked you here so I could flirt with you.’
I felt very brave saying this.
Andrew’s eyebrows rose.
‘I want some flirtation in my life,’ I said.
His expression was hard to read. Heartburn? Excitement?
‘I had not noticed till now,’ I said, my voice was husky, ‘the boyish way your hair falls over your brow. It’s lovely.’
Yes I did say that. It was marvellous. He looked into my eyes for the first time.
I also chose this moment to remove a sizeable crumb of garlic bread crust from the sleeve of his fleece. Then I gave his narrow shoulders a brush. Grooming works for chimpanzees, so why not Andrew?
‘Some carnivorous plants in my collection are very attractive,’ he said. ‘Unusual colours. Strange shapes. Beads of seductive stickiness…’
I nodded attentively: for listening is important in courtship.
‘But sometimes it makes you think about the flies.’ His voice fell. ‘Such a strange way to go, isn’t it?’ He put his fork down and kept his knife. ‘I have always thought that women are like carnivorous plants.’
‘Do you collect them too?’ I asked, archly.
It was happening at last. Flirtation. I crossed my legs, they are my best feature.
‘Very few. I may have green fingers, but I don’t have…’ His expression was full of longing. ‘I don’t have pink ones.’
‘Oh Andrew,’ I said. I took his hand and felt his nice sausagey fingertips. ‘Let me be your Venus fly trap.’
Whatever his hoodie was made from emitted a crackle of static.
My veiled hat dropped from the back of my chair.
‘I have always wanted to bathe in your digestive juices, Carole.’ He slid his chair towards me, and buried his face in my neck. ‘Until I dissolve…’
I sighed, pressing my glistening lips to his forehead.