“Umm. . I’m not sure,” I say, starting to back away. Why didn’t I just say she gave me the bloody scarf? “Anyway, lovely to see you, Luke. Must dash, my friends will be missing me!”
I give a nonchalant kind of wave without quite looking Luke in the eye and then quickly turn round and walk back to Suze, my legs trembling and my fingers twisted tightly by my sides. God, what a fiasco.
I’ve managed to recompose myself by the time our food arrives. The food! I’ve ordered grilled scallops and as I take my first bite, I nearly swoon. After so many torturous days of cheap, functional food, this is like going to heaven. I feel almost tearful — like a prisoner returning to the real world, or children after the war, when rationing stopped. After my scallops I have steak béarnaise and chips — and when all the others say no thanks to the pudding menu, I order chocolate mousse. Because who knows when I’m next going to be in a restaurant like this? There could be months ahead of cheese sandwiches and homemade coffee in a flask, with nothing to relieve the monotony.
While I’m waiting for my chocolate mousse, Suze and Fenella decide they simply must go and talk to Benjy, on the other side of the room. So they leap up, both lighting cigarettes as they do so, and Tarquin stays behind to keep me company. He doesn’t seem quite as into table-hopping as the others. In fact, he’s been pretty quiet all evening. I’ve also noticed that he’s drunk more than any of us. Any moment I’m expecting his head to land on the table.
For a while there’s silence between us. To be honest, Tarquin is so weird, I don’t know how to talk to him. Then, suddenly, he says, “Do you like Wagner?”
“Oh yes,” I say at once. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any Wagner, but I don’t want to sound uncultured. And I have been to the opera before, though I think that was Mozart.
“ ‘The Liebestod’ from Tristan,” he says, and shakes his head. “ ‘The Liebestod.’ ”
“Mmm,” I say, and nod in what I hope is an intelligent manner. I pour myself some wine, fill his glass up, too, and look around to see where Suze has got to. Typical of her just to disappear off and leave me with her drunken cousin.
“Dah-dah-dah-dah, daaaah dah dah. .”
Oh my God, now he’s singing. Not loudly, but really intensely. And he’s staring into my eyes as though he expects me to join in.
Now he’s closed his eyes and is swaying. This is getting embarrassing.
“Da diddle-idy da-a-da-a daaaah dah. .”
“Lovely,” I say brightly. “You can’t beat Wagner, can you?”
“Tristan,” he says. “Und Isolde.” He opens his eyes. “You’d make a beautiful Isolde.”
I’d make a what? While I’m still staring at him, he lifts my hand to his lips and starts kissing it. For a few seconds I’m too shocked to move.
“Tarquin,” I say as firmly as I can, trying to pull my hand away. “Tarquin, please—” I look up and desperately scan the room for Suze — and, as I do so, meet the eye of Luke Brandon, making his way out of the restaurant. He frowns slightly, lifts his hand in farewell, then disappears out of the door.
“Your skin smells like roses,” murmurs Tarquin against my skin.
“Oh, shut up!” I say crossly, and yank my hand out of his grasp so hard I get a row of teeth marks on my skin. “Just leave me alone!”
I would slap him, but he’d probably take it as a come-on.
Just then, Suze and Fenella arrive back at the table, full of news about Binky and Minky — and Tarquin reverts into silence. And for the rest of the evening, even when we say good-bye, he barely looks at me. Thank God. He must have got the message.
IT DOESN’T SEEM HE has, though, because on Saturday, I receive a card of a pre-Raphaelite girl looking coyly over her shoulder. Inside, Tarquin has written: Many apologies for my uncouth behavior. I hope to make it up to you. Tickets to Bayreuth — or, failing that, dinner?Tarquin.
Dinner with Tarquin. Can you imagine? And what’s he going on about, anyway? I’ve never heard of Bayreuth. Is it a new show or something? Or does he mean Beirut? Why would we want to go to Beirut, for God’s sake?
Anyway, I’ve got more important things to think about today. This is my sixth day of Cutting Back — and, crucially, my first weekend. David E. Barton says this is often when one’s frugal regime cracks, as the office routine is no longer there as a distraction and the day stretches empty, waiting to be filled with the familiar comfort of shopping.
But I’m too strong-willed to crack. I’ve got my day completely sussed — and I’m not going near any shops. This morning I’m going to visit a museum and then tonight, instead of wasting lots of money on an expensive takeaway, I’m cooking a homemade curry for me and Suze. I’m actually quite excited about it.