Suitable for 14+
Everything had changed. It was a bold statement to make, Andrea knew, but the tagliatelle at Le Blanc Maison wasn't cutting it any more. She could never say that to Rhys, of course.
Right now he was twittering on about which broadband package to go for, earnest in his sharply tailored suit, his hand resting lightly on hers when actually, she wanted to finish eating.
'...100mb for £31. Practically a stone age speed. But then, we don't tend to do much downloading do we? Except for your illegal music.'
Andrea really wanted to eat her pasta.
'Can we please talk about something that doesn't make me want to smash a plate over my head?'
She expected Rhys to kick off, she didn't really care if he did. Surprisingly, his grasp on his glass did tighten, but his face stayed smooth. He even smiled. 'I would never want you to hurt yourself, darling.'
Andrea didn't know what had happened. Once Rhys had possessed a sense of humour as well as a guitar collection, eighteen strong, but in the last six months he had changed from a part-time busker to a full-time plumber and what business did plumbers have wearing suits? She had preferred him before, when he had purchased roughed up jeans from charity shops so people were sure they had 'the real deal'. It had won him customers.
'Nobody's going to fall for it. You sound like you went to private school. Oh wait, you did.'
At first, Rhys had tried to forget his elocution lessons. He had even grown his hair into a straggly brown bob which Andrea disliked almost as much as his rants on how Netflix was destroying the film industry. Now he had taken to straightening said bob and smoothing it into a bun, and looking her in the eyes in a soulful manner, and throwing out her crisps and replacing them with unsalted Brazil nuts. Rhys was no longer the man on the bench performing Wonderwall, which even then had been a strike against him.
'Are we going to get Eton mess?' It was their joke. He had to get it.
'Full of calories. I was thinking fresh fruit and low-fat cream back at the apartment?'
Andrea wondered if, were they married, this would be accepted as a reason for divorce.
'Who has fresh fruit and low-fat cream on a Friday night? I suppose we're not going to Julia's now either?'
Rhys wrinkled his nose. 'Julia's so...tacky.'
Rhys had promised he wasn't a snob. She had mocked him mercilessly about being double-barrel and his enormous inheritance, often forgetting he was a person with feelings and not just a boy on his Gap Yah. That he had been, three years back, when they had met. She quite liked that being from the country, he had thought London a suitable place to go.
'Rhys, Julia is your sister.'
Even coming from the Lambert-Taylor's didn't prevent infidelity. It had been Rhys' mother who had left and given birth to Julia when Rhys was seven years old. His father, expected by everyone to seek revenge immediately – he was that kind of man – shocked the entire village when he shot himself in the tiled front room.
Andrea found the whole story horribly dramatic and tragic in equal measure; but she could never quite connect the man in front of her to the gingham clad boy found hiding by the housekeeper. Rhys never talked about it, but Julia did: Julia, who had never met Isaac Lambert-Taylor and experienced the warmth in his eyes overshadowed by pain, or seen the trembling hands stroking the barrel of the shot gun. She had not seen the photo of her mother clutched to his chest: wearing her nightgown and wedding ring. Still, she relished the story. Julia looked exactly as a Julia should: of course she had curly hair and a dress made entirely of peacock feathers. Naturally, she was a neurotic artist. Andrea called her a cartoon character, Rhys slammed her as a stereotype. He always disappeared during her parties, when she would sit centre stage and recall spoken word poetry (Andrea had to take anti-nausea tablets) and then tell the tragic story of what her mother had been through.
'My mother, Sara, was married to a maniac who owned lots of land and so thought he owned her.' She would begin, both music and voice dropping to a hum.
'He was a tyrant. He thought he was king of Hereford. Mother says he would charge around, threatening to murder every person in the village who stood in his way. He terrified her. He even terrorised his son.'
The fact that Rhys could write Julia off as simply 'tacky' was a marvel to Andrea.
'I get it,' she said suddenly, trying to smile at him but failing. 'It's the anniversary, isn't it?'
She waited for tears to fill Rhys' eyes, for his head to drop forward into his chicken and tarragon soup, for splashes of it to wet his cheeks. She waited.
Instead, he rolled his eyes with exasperation. 'No, Andrea, he died in the winter.'
'Yes, and it's autumn now!'
'It's the 29th of July.'
At least they could still communicate.
Later on, when she had finally persuaded him to split a lemon cheesecake, he ordered some champagne.
'We can't bloody afford-' The words always tried to escape her mouth, but never quite made it. She remembered with the same sting, just as she had the first time he had paid for their ice creams in the summer.
'Of course I can. I can afford anything.'
Andrea had found a ring in his pocket the previous week. A ridiculously over the top, emerald studded ring. Real emeralds. Why was he a plumber? It made her job, the job she had worked for rather than deciding on a whim, totally worthless in comparison. Whenever she tried to express this, Rhys smiled condescendingly. 'Comparison is the thief of joy, Andrea.'
Now she suspected she'd find this exact ring at the bottom of her glass.
'Rhys, why are you ordering champagne?'
'I've got something to celebrate.'
She speared the last bite of cheesecake on her fork before he could. 'You ever going to tell me?'
So predictable. So assuming. Of course it was like him to stage a public proposal and just assume she would say yes so they could have a boring wedding probably held in his hated stepdaddy's stable with Julia as a bridesmaid reciting a poem about how all love was doomed in the end. She would feel like a fraud in white, besides, it drained her.
She'd say yes, though.
Underneath it all, Rhys was still the boy on the bench with beautiful eyes and the most nasal, out of tune voice she had ever heard. That was why she had liked him, she couldn't sing either.
When the champagne arrived, another cheesecake did too. Chocolate, this time. She wondered if she could ask Rhys to wait five minutes before asking for lifelong commitment.
'Did you really need another cheesecake, Andrea?' His eyes, the beautiful eyes, found her waist and stayed there.
Rhys could definitely wait five minutes.
Or he couldn't, because he was allowing the waiters to pour their champagne for them and there was no sign of a ring anywhere, even though she peered at the glass as inconspicuously as she could.
'I didn't order the cheesecake.'
'Neither did I. Perhaps your stomach did it subconsciously.'
Maybe Rhys could wait for the rest of eternity and then fall down a well and drown.
'Are you going to tell me what we're celebrating?' Andrea imagined the icing was Rhys' dark hair, and the vanilla underside his scalp, as he went bald over the years. The years of their marriage.
'You're not celebrating anything.' He downed his glass in a gulp. 'I'm celebrating the end of our relationship. Quite frankly, you've changed. Enjoy the cake.'
And he left, forgetting a suit jacket later burned by Andrea in the street.