It was supposed to be perfect. We went down to Brighton for the day. I had planned it all. I imagined us strolling hand in hand along the seafront, laughing. I expected to walk along the pier and play ironically on the amusements. I wanted to sit and watch the sunset, eating hot, fat chips from a paper bag and swigging red wine from the bottle. It would be spontaneous, joyful and romantic. It would be enough, I hoped, to make you say those elusive three words.
When we met at Victoria station the sky was already grey. The train was so busy we had to stand, pressed together by the doors between a group of teenagers shrieking and a fat man who smelt of stale sweat. When we arrived, there was drizzle in the air. We walked down the hill towards the sea. You suggested a coffee and I agreed, although the day was already ruined. I took a seat by a steamed-up window and fought back tears of frustration.
You reached across the table to take my hand. I pulled it away.
“We could go to the Lanes,” you said, “and look at the shops. Or we could go to the Pavillion. I’ve never been.”
I shrugged. We finished our drinks in silence. I could tell you were irritated and I resented you for not understanding. We’d been together nearly eight months. It was time, and today was supposed to be the day, and it just wasn’t good enough.
I had been waiting, after all, for so long. Since I saw you first, sitting at a table with a mutual friend, turning a beer mat between your fingers. I decided then that you would be The One. I liked the way your jacket hung a little too loose, the way your hair was a little too long. I liked the way your smile crept across your face, like a promise unfurling.
I’d been waiting before that, too. I was waiting when we met. Once I had the degree, and the career, and the flat, and the clothes, it was all that was left to achieve. I wanted to be loved. When I met you I knew you were a man who would love with loyalty, and devotion, and kindness. So I chose you.
You asked me on one date, and then another and, after a suitable amount of time, I allowed you into my bed. We spent Tuesday nights and Sunday afternoons together. We explored the best bars and the quirkiest restaurants. We walked hand in hand under Christmas lights and lay together under trees on Hampstead Heath. All I was waiting for was for you to tell me that you loved me, so the next phase could begin.
Things were not going to plan.
In the end we went to the beach anyway. The wind was sharp. I shivered in the casual, flattering sundress I had chosen so carefully that morning. We sat on the hard, cold pebbles and you put your arm around me. There was a discarded beer can by our feet. It was wrong, it was all so wrong.
“This is nice,” you said, “it’s good to get out of London.”
I didn’t reply.
“Are you cold? Shall we find a pub?”
I shook my head.
You stood up. You turned. You walked away, the small stones crunching under your boots. I stayed where I was, looking out at the grey waves, watching the seagulls swerve and dive. I kicked that can as hard as I could, but it only rose a metre in the air and landed again in front of me.