Another few minutes pass, during which time I develop a tic in my right eye. It flickers uncontrollably like Herbert Lom’s in The Pink Panther every time Clouseau hove into view.
Now I’m slightly tipsy and my eye’s all a’quiver. Maybe if I break both ankles as I’m going down the stairs, I can claim disability allowance and retire gracefully to Eastbourne, then I won’t have to worry about dating inappropriate men any more.
Unable to contain myself any longer, I pick up my handbag and keys, lock my front door and walk very carefully down the three flights of stairs. I twitch for another few minutes in the hallway of my block and finally, a black cab pulls up.
I leave my building smiling and walk confidently towards him, like a clapperboard's just been clapped and the director’s barked: ‘Action!!’
He’s in the back of the taxi on his mobile phone. He grasps my hand as I climb in and pulls a face by way of apology. I mouthe ‘Don’t worry…’ and squeeze his hand so tightly I nearly fracture his fingers.
I look at him and I look at him again. God. He is handsome. More so than I remember. I haven’t seen him since that awful night he fell apart in my little tub chair, and he’s actually improved.
The illusion I have of him in my mind did not, strangely, include the way he looks. It was more about the complexity of his character and the way he made me feel on holiday...certainly not since as, if you weigh it up, a major brain fuck is not perhaps that seductive.
He’s wearing a crisp white shirt, a grey suit and no tie. I’ve only ever seen him in ski wear or jeans. Or naked.
He finishes his call and turns to me and we give each other a big hug and a kiss on each cheek.
‘You look absolutely gorgeous…’ he says softly, looking me up and down with undisguised admiration.
Then he releases my hand abruptly, as if by holding on to it he might be lured back into some dark place he neither understands nor wishes to go.
‘It’s all new,’ I reply, so glad that he’s noticed. ‘Especially for tonight.’
Accommodate him, please him, make-him-feel-at-ease-him.
He apologizes again for having come straight from work and for being late, then draws my attention to the fact that his shoes could have been cleaner.
‘But you’ve been working,’ I say, helping to excuse him. I wouldn’t have cared if he’d been wearing one gold flip flop and one dog-eared trainer.
‘I’d wanted to go home and change, but I ran out of time’ he explains. ‘In fact, I nearly had to cancel again, but I knew that wouldn’t have gone down too well…’
Too right it wouldn’t.
‘Why what happened?’ I ask, deeply interested in what his idea of a good reason to cancel would have been.
‘There was a crisis at a property I’m renovating, but I got someone else to deal with it. If I’d had to go there myself, I suppose I could have picked you up first and taken you with...?’
‘I wouldn’t have minded that,’ I answer. ‘I would’ve put jeans on and we could’ve got a takeaway pizza…as long as we’d been together…that’s all I want…’
I drop my voice to little more than a whisper.
‘And I’ve not been well again since we last met…’ he informs me, with a drop of whine in his voice.
‘You look very well now,’ I flatter. ‘How do you feel?’
The correct answer would have been ‘All the better for seeing you’ but I don’t get that.
Instead he’s looking straight ahead, seemingly lost in thought. His hands are clasped together in his lap. I want to take one in mine and lift it to my lips but I don’t want to freak him out.
We make small talk for the rest of the journey and arrive at the restaurant where he orders two glasses of champagne. We clink a toast to seeing each other again and relax into conversation, like two normal people out on a date.
We share a bottle of wine with the meal. I know I’ll have a headache in the morning but I don’t care. I don’t need my head for anything other than thinking about him and that’s been an ache for the past five weeks anyway.
When I laugh at something he says, I realize I haven’t laughed since the last time we laughed together, and I tell him this because it’s true.
I take the conversation back to the good times we shared, trying to remind him how wonderful we were together in those carefree, heady, fun-filled days.
‘And oh those lazy afternoons... when it was snowing too hard to do anything but...' I sigh but he will not meet my eyes.
We talk about work and what’s on at the theatre, and there’s actually a play he wants to see. I immediately offer to buy the tickets and suggest we go together.
He hesitates, and I know I’m going too fast. I've definitely assumed the role of predator here, over keen, over-aged and over here. When an over eager suitor does this to me, I find it really annoying.
As we near the end of the meal, I notice a button hanging loose from the cuff of his jacket, and another one actually missing.
‘You need someone to look after you…’ I offer sweetly. ‘If you want to come home with me later, I’ll sew them back on for you.’
He looks at me as if I’ve just told him I’ve laid animal traps all up my stairs and there’s little chance of him avoiding them.
He pulls at his sleeve trying to turn it round so I won’t see it.
‘You’ll tell all your friends I arrived late looking like a tramp,’ he gripes, clearly embarrassed that I’ve noticed another flaw in his presentation,
‘Don’t be silly’ I cajole. ‘I’ll tell them that you arrived on a white charger, all tall and gorgeous, and that we had a wonderful time. That’s right, isn’t it?’
He manages to nod and shake his head all at the same time, an action Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men perfected it in the fifties.
Now it’s me who needs reassuring, me who feels insecure. I’m trying to love the pants off him and he’s shrinking down in his seat like a puppet whose master’s let go of the strings.
We share a chocolate mousse, then he pays the bill and we walk down Charing Cross Road to find a cab. He doesn’t hold my hand nor take my arm but strides on ahead looking left and right. At one point, a group of drunken youths block my path, and I have to step this way and that to get past them.
I call out to him: ‘Look after me, please. I’m about to be hi-jacked here!’ and he slows down and I take his arm.
This doesn’t feel natural. He’s holding it stiffly away from his body like someone’s left a brolly stuck up his sleeve. I let go and we carry on walking separately.
We eventually find a cab and climb in and at last, he takes my hand and I entwine my legs through his. He looks down at my feet.
‘Oh what lovely shoes!’ he remarks and I snuggle up closer to him.