She remembered that Connor had always been keener than she was – he was too old and serious, she’d thought. It was her first year at uni; she was only nineteen, and she’d been somewhat bemused by the intense interest this older, quiet man was showing her.
She may well have treated him quite badly. She’d been lacking in so much confidence when she was a teenager, worrying all the time about what people thought of her, and how they might hurt her, without even considering the impact she might have on their feelings.
‘I’ve been thinking about you actually,’ said Connor. ‘After I saw you at the school this morning. I was even wondering if you’d like to, ah, catch up? For a coffee, maybe?’
‘Oh!’ said Tess. A coffee with Connor Whitby. It just seemed so preposterously irrelevant, like those times that Liam suggested they do a jigsaw puzzle just when Tess was smack bang in the middle of some computer or plumbing crisis. Her whole life had just imploded! She wasn’t going to go for a coffee with this sweet but essentially dull ex-boyfriend from her teens.
Didn’t he know she was married? She twisted her hands on the petrol pump so that her wedding ring was in full view. She still felt extremely married.
Apparently moving back home was just like joining Facebook, when middle-aged ex-boyfriends came crawling out of the woodwork like cockroaches, suggesting ‘drinks’, putting out their little feelers for potential affairs. Was Connor married? She glanced over at his hands, trying to see a ring.
‘I didn’t mean a date if that’s what you’re thinking,’ said Connor.
‘I wasn’t thinking that.’
‘I know you’re married, don’t worry. I don’t know if you remember my sister’s son, Benjamin? Anyway, he’s just finished uni and he wants to go into advertising. That’s your field, isn’t it? I was actually thinking of exploiting you for your professional expertise.’ He chewed on the side of his cheek. ‘Maybe exploiting is the wrong choice of word.’
‘Benjamin has just finished uni?’ Tess was bewildered. ‘But he couldn’t have – he was only in preschool!’
Memories flooded back. A minute ago she wouldn’t have been able to name Connor’s nephew, or even remember that he had one. Now she could suddenly see the exact pale green colour of the walls of Benjamin’s bedroom.
‘He was a preschooler sixteen years ago,’ said Connor. ‘Now he’s six foot three and very hairy, with a tattoo of a barcode on his neck. I’m not kidding. A barcode.’
‘We took him to the zoo,’ marvelled Tess.
‘We may well have.’
‘Your sister was sound asleep.’ Tess remembered a dark-haired woman curled up on a sofa. ‘She was sick.’ Hadn’t she been a single mother? Not that Tess had appreciated that at the time. She should have offered to go out and buy groceries. ‘How is your sister?’
‘Oh, well, we actually lost her, a few years ago.’ He sounded apologetic. ‘A heart attack. She was only fifty. Very fit and healthy, so it was . . . a shock. I’m Benjamin’s guardian.’
‘God, I’m so sorry, Connor.’ Tess’s voice fractured with the unexpectedness of it. The world was a desperately sad place. Hadn’t he been especially close to his sister? What was her name? Lisa. It was Lisa.
‘A coffee would be great,’ she said suddenly, impulsively. ‘You can pick my brain. For what it’s worth.’ She wasn’t the only one suffering. People lost their loved ones. Husbands fell in love with other people. Besides, a coffee with someone entirely unrelated to her current life would be the perfect distraction. Connor Whitby was not creepy. ‘That’d be great,’ Connor smiled. She didn’t remember him having such an attractive smile. He lifted his helmet. ‘I’ll call, or email.’
‘Okay, do you need my –’ The petrol pump clicked to indicate the tank was full, and Tess lifted the nozzle out and placed it back on the bowser.
‘You’re a St Angela’s mum now,’ said Connor. ‘I can track you down.’
‘Oh. Good.’ A St Angela’s mum. She felt strangely exposed. She turned to face him with her car keys and wallet in her hand.
‘Like your PJs by the way.’ Connor looked her up and down and grinned.
‘Thanks,’ said Tess. ‘I like your bike. I don’t remember you riding one.’ Didn’t he drive a boring little sedan of some sort?
‘It’s my midlife crisis.’
‘I think my husband is having one of those,’ said Tess.
‘Hope it’s not costing you too much,’ said Connor.
Tess shrugged. Ha ha. She looked at the bike again and said, ‘When I was seventeen, my mother said she would pay me five hundred dollars if I signed a contract promising never to go on the back of a boy’s motorbike.’
‘Did you sign it?’
‘Never breached the contract?’
‘I’m forty-five,’ said Connor. ‘Not exactly a boy.’
Their eyes met. Was this conversation becoming . . . flirtatious? She remembered waking up next to him, in a plain white room with a window that looked out on a busy highway. Didn’t he have a waterbed? Hadn’t she and Felicity laughed themselves silly over that? He wore a St Christopher medallion that dangled over her face when they made love. All at once she felt nauseous. Miserable. This was a mistake.