“Do you really like Wagner?” says Tarquin. “Not everyone does.”
“I adore Wagner,” I insist. “He’s my favorite composer.” OK, quick — what did that book say? “I love the. . er. . sonorous melodic strands which interweave in the Prelude.”
“The Prelude to what?” says Tarquin interestedly.
Oh shit. Is there more than one Prelude? I take a gulp of champagne, playing for time, desperately trying to recall something else from the book. But the only other bit I can remember is “Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig.”
“All the Preludes,” I say at last. “I think they’re all. . fab.”
“Right,” says Tarquin, looking a bit surprised.
Oh God. That wasn’t the right thing to say, was it? Change the subject. Change the subject.
Luckily, at that moment, a waiter arrives with our garlic bread, and we can get off the subject of Wagner. And Tarquin orders some more champagne. Somehow, I think we’re going to need it.
Which means that by the time I’m halfway through my Fiorentina, I’ve drunk almost an entire bottle of champagne and I’m. . Well, frankly, I’m completely pissed. My face is tingling and my eyes are sparkling, and my arm gestures are a lot more erratic than usual. But this doesn’t matter. In fact, being pissed is a good thing — because it means I’m also delightfully witty and lively and am more-or-less carrying the conversation single-handedly. Tarquin is also pissed, but not as much as me. He’s got quieter and quieter, and kind of thoughtful. And he keeps gazing at me.
As I finish my last scraps of pizza and lean back pleasurably, he stares at me silently for a moment, then reaches into his pocket and produces a little box.
“Here,” he says. “This is for you.”
I have to admit, for one heart-stopping moment I think, This is it! He’s proposing!
But of course, he’s not proposing, is he? He’s just giving me a little present.
I knew that.
So I open it, and find a leather box, and inside is a little gold brooch in the shape of a horse. Lots of fine detail; beautifully crafted. A little green stone (emerald?) for the eye.
Really not my kind of thing.
“It’s gorgeous,” I breathe in awe. “Absolutely. . stunning.”
“It’s rather jolly, isn’t it?” says Tarquin. “Thought you’d like it.”
“I adore it.” I turn it over in my fingers then look up at him and blink a couple of times with misty eyes. God, I’m drunk. I think I’m actually seeing through champagne. “This is so thoughtful of you,” I murmur.
Plus, I don’t really wear brooches. I mean, where are you supposed to put them? Slap bang in the middle of a really nice top? I mean, come on. And they always leave great brooch-holes everywhere.
“It’ll look lovely on you,” says Tarquin after a pause — and suddenly I realize he’s expecting me to put it on.
Aaargh! It’ll ruin my lovely Whistles dress! And who wants a horse galloping across their tits, anyway!
“I must put it on,” I say, and open the clasp. Gingerly, I thread it through the fabric of my dress and clasp it shut, already feeling it pull the dress out of shape.
“It looks wonderful,” says Tarquin, meeting my gaze. “But then. . you always look wonderful.”
I feel a dart of apprehension as I see him leaning forward. He’s going to try and hold my hand again, isn’t he? And probably kiss me. I glance at Tarquin’s lips — parted and slightly moist — and give an involuntary shudder. Oh God. I’m not quite ready for this. I mean, obviously I do want to kiss Tarquin, of course I do. In fact, I find him incredibly attractive. It’s just. . I think I need some more champagne first.
“That scarf you were wearing the other night,” says Tarquin. “It was simply stunning. I looked at you in that, and I thought. .”
Now I can see his hand edging toward mine.
“My Denny and George scarf!” I cut in brightly, before he can say anything else. “Yes, that’s lovely, isn’t it? It was my aunt’s, but she died. It was really sad, actually.”
Just keep talking, I think. Keep talking brightly and gesture a lot.
“But anyway, she left me her scarf,” I continue hurriedly. “So I’ll always remember her through that. Poor Aunt Ermintrude.”
“I’m really sorry,” says Tarquin, looking taken aback. “I had no idea.”
“No. Well. . her memory lives on through her good works,” I say, and give him a little smile. “She was a very charitable woman. Very. . giving.”