The waiter hovered uncertainly by the table. The middle-aged couple leant close to each other, left hand clasped in right.
They were talking quietly, watching each other’s words as much as listening, eyes caressing lips, nose, eyes, chin.
The waiter glanced around as if for assistance. Finally he coughed.
The man glanced up.
‘Would you like the wine-list?’ the waiter asked.
‘Chardonnay,’ said the man, and turned once more to the woman.
Their hands tightened. Their heads bent lower, their voices fell quieter. Without realising it the woman’s right hand reached out and touched the man’s wrist. Her fingers began to stroke, slowly, gently, slowly, gently.
The waiter appeared with the wine, wondered whether to pour some to taste but decided to leave the bottle and departed.
The woman’s hand moved up the man’s arm, sliding smoothly into the arm of his jacket. Their hands clenched more tightly, their eyes softened.
‘I want you,’ she said quietly.
The man smiled. But there was something in his eyes, a curl of hurt which he was too late to hide from her.
She saw it and her eyes narrowed. She tilted her head slightly, questioning.
‘I want you too,’ he said.
She smiled and sighed, melting at his words, longing to wrap him in her arms even then, even there.
‘Then everything is just perfect,’ she said.
She picked up her glass and held it up to him. He lifted the bottle and poured the wine, hearing the gurgle of the liquid as it splashed into her glass.
She raised the glass to her lips, perhaps to toast him, perhaps to toast them both. But then she saw he had placed the bottle down on the table.
‘I want you,’ he said, so softly that she could barely hear him above the clamour of the restaurant. ‘But I wanted you all those years ago. And you wouldn’t, you couldn’t, you weren’t ready for me.’
She drew breath. The restaurant seemed to spin away from her.
‘I couldn’t leave him,’ she said. She was frightened now. ‘You know that, you knew that then.’
He did not answer.
She stared into his eyes. ‘Things are different now,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he said. His voice was distant.
‘The thing is,’ he paused, wondering what he was about to say. ‘The thing is that I could forgive you then, even though it hurt me to my heart. That pain has gone. But now, suddenly, I find I can’t forgive you.’
He reached for his wallet. Threw a twenty on the table.
He got up. Walked out. Never looked back.