This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 1170 words.
Ellie was as good as her word, returning that afternoon with some delicious ingredients to use to make dinner later, two bottles of wine, and a DVD of the latest action blockbuster. She didn’t seem to have bought anything else, as there were no clothes bags. And there was no mention of lunch with Val either, but Steve let that go. It would be nice to have a normal night in together. Might be like it used to be, years ago.
He cut the grass on the tiny patch of lawn, and watered the three rose bushes. They didn’t have much of a garden, and hardly ever sat outside anymore. But with such a pleasant evening on the way, he thought it might be nice for them to use the bistro table and chairs before eating. Ellie spent a long time chopping and browning. A lovely aroma of garlic wafted through the house, and he heard the sizzle as she added wine to the dish. Then as it was cooking, she set up the little folding table in the free space by the window. Small, intimate, just two chairs. He noticed that she had used the good knives and forks, and some of the crystal glasses that had been a wedding gift.
When she went upstairs to shower and change, he thought about opening his laptop, then decided against it.
Back down and fussing in the kitchen, Ellie called out to him. “It will be ready in twenty minutes, Stevie. You should go and shower now love”. As he stood in the water, he realised that she had called him ‘Stevie’. He hadn’t heard her call him that for at least five years or more. It felt strange.
Steve took his time over the meal, instead of wolfing it down as he usually did. It was delicious, tender beef in a luscious sauce, different flavours dancing off his tongue. The vegetables were steamed to perfection, and the accompanying wine, a pricey Bordeaux, complemented the meat perfectly. Ellie chatted about nothing much, but was animated and friendly. As they both got close to finishing, he decided now was a good time to make his suggestion.
“Those guys at work, you know, the football fans I told you about? Well they keep on at me about travelling to support the local team for that first big grudge match of the season in a week or two. They have a deal with a cheap hotel, and will rent a minibus. It’s quite a reasonable price all-in, as it includes a ticket to the match. But it’s so far, they are planning to go after work on the Friday, then stay on the Saturday too, after the game. I should be home on Sunday afternoon. What do you think?” Ellie put down her knife and fork.
“You don’t have to ask me, Stevie. You can go where you want, silly. By all means tag along with the lads to see the match. I expect it’s just an excuse for them to all get drunk, anyway. But I am a little surprised that you can be bothered, as you have never been interested in football since I have known you”. She started to clear the table, and he stood up quickly, eager to help.
“It’s not really about the football, more about fitting in, I suppose. We have been up against it at work this last couple of weeks, and everyone needs to have a break, and let our hair down a bit”. Ellie walked ahead of him into the kitchen, speaking without turning. “That’s fine. Maybe I will get the train up to see Mum and Dad, while you’re away. It will be a nice surprise for them.
Can you fold up the table and chairs, love, and put them back in the hall cupboard please?”
As they sat together watching the film, Steve wasn’t concentrating at all. Ellie had taken that very well, he thought. Sophie was going to be very pleased.
Later that night, Steve woke up on the sofa. Finishing the second bottle of wine hadn’t been a good plan, and he had no idea what time Ellie had given up on him and gone to bed. He turned over, deciding to stay downstairs. No point risking waking her up in the middle of the night. As he felt the pounding in his temples, he knew he was going to feel awful when he woke up.
It was early, he could tell that by the still air, and lack of noise coming from the surrounding houses. Plodding into the kitchen, he found some headache tablets in a drawer, and took three, with a bottle of water ice cold from the fridge. Ellie made him jump as she appeared behind him, silent in her bare feet. “I just heard from Lee. Some sort of crisis. I could do without that on my days off, but I will have to go, or he won’t stop ringing. There’s a lasagna in the freezer if I am not back in time for dinner”. Steve turned and looked at her. Fresh, dressed, made-up, and ready to go once her shoes were on.
His eyelids felt heavy as they flapped open and closed slowly. “What time is is love?” She grabbed her keys from the worktop as she answered. “Just before seven, I think. I have a taxi coming at seven, so I want to be ready. You OK with that? I can tell Lee to come here instead if you want, but I doubt you need all that grief on top of a hangover”. Steve shook his head. “No, that’s fine. You go to him. I don’t really need all that hysteria this morning. You got that right”. She gave him a peck on the cheek, and went outside to wait for her cab.
Steve waited thirty minutes until his headache started to fade. When he opened the laptop, he was actually surprised that there was no email from Sophie. How quickly he had come to expect her regular contact, and how soon it made him anxious, when there was no message. He smiled to himself at how silly that was, and began typing.
‘Dear Sophie. Well it is all arranged! I told my wife that I am going to the away match with the football guys from work, and she didn’t care at all. I looked it up, and it is next Saturday. So I will come round after work on the Friday, and I can stay until Sunday lunchtime. Let me know if that’s still alright with you. Love, Steve. xxx’
There was no immediate reply. Maybe she was still asleep, it was still early for a Sunday. For some reason, he didn’t want to shut the laptop. Instead, he waited for the reply to arrive, sure it wouldn’t be long in coming.
But by the time it got to almost nine, he gave up, and went to have a bath.