Happy Valentine’s Day!
I thought, as a Valentine treat, I’d share a romantic extract from Another Cup of Coffee with you today!
…Amy was nervous, more nervous than when she’d caught up with Rob on her arrival in London.
Paul was late. She examined the inside of the intricate medieval stone work opposite her. The doorway to St Martins-in-the-Fields wasn’t easy to spot, Amy had walked past it by mistake before she’d come in, and she’d been here before. Maybe the British Museum would have been a better place to meet, or the Victoria and Albert? Amy glanced at the entrance for the tenth time in as many minutes. Paul might not even recognise her; after all, it had been a long time since they’d seen each other.
Her drink was already half gone. Amy checked her phone again. No messages. Giving up, she dug into her bag, bringing out the ever present novel.
Paul had spotted Amy as soon as he’d manoeuvred his six-foot-two frame through the low stone doorway. He’d been confident she would be in the café’s furthest corner, and sure enough, there she was. Amy had always adopted a position where she could hide. As he watched her, Paul wondered if it was even something she was conscious of.
There was a coffee cup by Amy already, and the book her nose was stuck into was a paperback of the more ponderous variety of classic. Most of the girls he met these days wouldn’t even have considered picking it up.
She was definitely a bit slimmer than he remembered, and her hair was sleeker, tethered back into two shoulder-length bunches that made her look younger than she was. Amy hadn’t managed to get them level, and one bunch was noticeably higher than the other. Paul found he was dying to straighten them out for her.
Her clothes were the same as in the old days, though; knowing Amy, Paul thought with a grin, they might well be exactly the same. Jeans and a stripy blue jumper, probably with a T-shirt beneath, very probably a black one. The only really noticeable difference between now and then was that she was wearing knee-length boots with a wedge heel rather than trainers.
Rob was right. Essentially, Amy Crane hadn’t changed a bit.
Suddenly aware that she was being observed, Amy looked up from her book.
Her face broke into a welcoming beam. ‘I thought you might have got lost.’ She stood up and found herself smothered in a massive bear hug. Paul smelt nice; all warm and clean without the overpowering scent of the male perfumes Amy so despised.
‘Tube delays. I couldn’t get a signal down there to let you know.’ Paul felt awkward, not quite sure what to say next, having held her slightly longer than perhaps was normal for a couple of friends. He’d engineered this opportunity to get her alone, and now he was here, he was tongue-tied.
Amy unwittingly came to his rescue. ‘You getting a coffee then?’
‘Yes, sure. You want a top-up? Black I assume?’
Amy watched Paul flirt with the Polish girl behind the counter as he placed his request. He was taller than she remembered. His black hair was still cropped very short, but it wasn’t as severe as the shaved style he’d favoured as a student. His jeans were blue rather than black, and his shirt, although crumpled, was smarter than the off-white T-shirts she’d always associated with him. Smarter. He was definitely smarter. A huge brown overcoat, which probably weighed a ton, covered the back view of him almost completely, the heels of his Doc Martens only just visible below the hem.
How come she hadn’t noticed how attractive he was back then? Amy felt taken aback at the alien notion, and abruptly pushed the idea away. Yet that hug …
Amy reined in and dismissed her wild flight of fancy as Paul returned with their refreshments. After they’d covered a wide range of comfortable reminiscences and laughed heartily at their past selves, Amy brought the conversation back up-to-date.
‘So, is anyone special waiting for you back on site?’
Paul pushed his cup aside. ‘No. No one’s twiddling their trowel and pining for my return.’
‘That’s not like you.’
Paul regarded Amy as if she was nuts. ‘I’m not stuck in a timewarp, Amy. I’m thirty-four. That pretty much makes me the father figure. I’m the oldest guy on site by at least five years. It’s the twenty-something’s that have the trowel-twiddlers waiting for them these days.’
‘But surely …’ Amy was genuinely shocked. She was so sure that things would have been just as she’d left them. ‘You must meet heaps of nice people.’
‘Sure I do. I have many friends, both male and female, right across the world.’
Amy wasn’t quite sure why she pushed further, ‘But no one special?’
‘Not since uni.’ Paul sighed, not sure if he was ready to go where this conversation might take them.
‘Uni?’ Amy couldn’t believe it. This was Paul. The guy every girl had wanted to date back then. Well, every girl bar her. Yet none of the string of young women he’d dated had ever lasted more than a fortnight, and for the life of her, Amy couldn’t remember if Paul had especially liked any of them. ‘Who was that then? You never said at the time.’
Paul hesitated, before taking the easy way out, ‘You never met her. Let’s go and explore. Gallery, museum, or a walk in the park?’
Amy was disappointed by his answer, but accepted it for now. She looked at her watch; it had already gone one. ‘How about we nip into the National Portrait Gallery, have a quick mooch around and then grab a bit of lunch.’
‘Good idea, is there a good café in there?’
‘Two; but the Portrait Restaurant is fantastic, you get views right across London. I went in with my friend Kit before Christmas.’ Amy paused. ‘It’s a bit expensive though. We could go into the Lounge area, that’s better price-wise, although maybe we shouldn’t …’ Uncertainty took hold, as Amy’s words trailed off.
Paul intercepted her rambling, ‘Amy, this is my treat.’
‘But archaeologists earn crap money.’ Amy blushed as she blurted out the sentence.
‘Oh thanks!’ Paul laughed at her, ‘Although, I can’t argue. However, I have news on that front. Come on, I have heaps to tell you yet. Show me these amazing views of yours, and tell me about your new friends.’
They were in luck. After a companionable hour soaking in the diverse art work, they found a two-seater table available at the very edge of the lounge bar. After purchasing a glass of white wine each, they sat in silence for a moment, staring at the world through the window. It was all there. London. Everything the tourist could hope to see in one complete eyeful. St Paul’s, the Eye, Big Ben. Everything.
‘It quite takes the breath away Amy. All that history.’
Without turning from the view, Amy ran through their personal history as she replied. ‘I knew you’d appreciate it.’
The waiter came over and took their order for two bowls of wild mushroom soup and homemade bread, before leaving them to soak up the panorama. Amy was the first to break the silence, ‘You were going to tell me something?’
‘Ah, right,’ he put down his own glass and sat back in his seat, ‘I will, but first I want to know if you saw sense and took the management post you were offered?’
‘I did,’ Amy took a draft of alcohol, ‘thanks to you.’
‘You helped me clarify a few things. I was so sure I had been set up, I felt feeling manipulated, but you made me see it wasn’t really like that.’
‘Of course it wasn’t.’
‘My friends were just trying to do their best for me.’
Paul was pleased, ‘Good. I’m glad. Now I can press ahead with my plans.’
Amy was intrigued, and more than a little impatient, ‘Tell me then!’
‘As I said, I’m no spring chicken on the excavation circuit. If I’m not actually running the dig, then I’m at least responsible for a good part of it.’
‘That’s great. Your CV must be excellent. You always were the only one who could tell an ordinary stone from a Neolithic axe-head.’
Paul smiled in acknowledgement, ‘I’ve seen the world Amy. I’ve found and seen all sorts of marvellous things. Written thousands of reports, drawn a million diagrams, been cited in heaps of books, but I’ve had enough.’
Amy was startled. ‘But Paul, it’s your life!’
‘Yes, it is. But I’m fast heading towards my forties, Amy. I have, as I’ve said, friends everywhere, but no one waits for me when I do get home. Only my parents miss me if a dig is extended at the last minute. It’s just not enough anymore.’
Like me, Amy thought. There’s no one at home, not for me anyway. ‘So, what will you do?’
Paul returned his gaze to the view; the people below looked tiny as they scuttled about, oblivious to the fact that they were being observed. ‘Is it nice living in London?’
‘Bit expensive I guess, and a touch overwhelming sometimes, but I like it.’ Amy began to nibble at the soft granary bread which a waiter had placed in the centre of their table.
‘Rob loves it, and I guess Jack does. I suppose the night life suits him.’ Paul verbally pounced as Amy reddened at the mention of Jack’s name, ‘What is it? What’s he done to you now?’
‘Nothing.’ Amy put up a hand, ‘Really, nothing. I’ll tell you all about it later. Go on with what you were telling me about London. Are you coming here to work? Are you?’ Amy felt as if she was on tenterhooks as she waited for his answer.
She seemed so eager; Paul felt more hopeful than he had dared allow himself to before. ‘I have the chance to. I wanted to know what you thought.’
‘And what Rob thinks, of course,’ Amy added.
‘Oh yes, and Rob.’ …
If you fancy finding what finds out next, or how much had to happened before Amy and Paul caught up with each other after years of being apart, you can buy Another Cup of Coffee as an e-book or a paperback from all good retailers including…
I hope you’re being treated well on this day of romance and snuggles.
Happy Valentine’s Day,