The Edward Lewis Gambit

‘And that tee shirt won’t do,’ said Lucy with intensity. ‘Oh you make me so mad sometimes, Alice.’

I was hurt. She had said dress down. This evening was supposed to be just the three of us going on the town for her mother’s birthday. Think student style, she said.

So I’d unearthed a pair of jeans (last worn a year ago, thank God they still fit) and, rummaging, found my only tee shirt. At nearly thirty-seven I didn’t have a lot of student gear. Okay it had the company logo on it, DFTC, but it was thin and much washed and I thought it looked scruffy enough.

Only I was wrong. Lucy didn’t want scruffy. She wanted, as she explained patiently to Rachel and me, young, hip and up for it.

We glugged a bit. But when she sent us off to the Ladies with a couple of shiny carrier bags, we went.

They turned out to contain cropped tops. Mine had sequins round the neck. Very cropped. Lots of sequins. Rachel’s was so pink it hurt the eyes.

‘You need to look okay to get into the club,’ Lucy told us, reasonably satisfied. ‘And, of course, I know the bouncer.’

I should have realised she was up to something then. Her tone was just on the windy side of martyred. But I didn’t. Not an inkling.

Not until – many, many drinks later – she yelled, ‘You’ve written yourself off as a human being, Alice. These days you’re just a brain attached to an airline ticket. Why can’t you see it?’

Lucy, I should explain, is my Jiminy Cricket. She was born when her mother and I were both eighteen and sharing a flat on the central mouse motorway in Southampton. Rachel limped through her degree while the rest of us in the house took turns minding the baby.

Lucy has been a sort of shared talisman ever since. I don’t baby sit her any more. But I talked – well listened – through her first adolescent crush. I walked her through banks and stockbrokers when she thought she might like to be a financier. And I sent her the ticket to get home when she was dumped in New York by a man old enough to be her father and Rachel thought she was partying with the girls in Ibiza. Lucy and I know stuff about each other.

So when she said, ‘You’ve written yourself off as a human being,’ I listened. Not enthusiastically. But I did listen.

I’d been clubbing before, of course, but never quite as we did that night. The average age must have been about nineteen. The noise was indescribable. On the heaving dance floor, I was drilled into some rudimentary salsa moves by a sweat-slithery young god with a safety pin in his navel. Actually, I was just starting to enjoy myself when Lucy swooped again.

This time she shot us off to a late night showing of “Pretty Woman” on the South Bank. Well, at least we got our breath back. We had popcorn and sang along to the soundtrack. Then all blew our noses, hard, when Vivian said she wanted the fairytale.

And we came out into the crisp January night – early morning by that time – with a big fat smile on our faces.

‘Oh isn’t it perfect?’ said Rachel, putting one arm round Lucy’s waist and one round mine.

We swung along the Embankment. The wind was icy. But the lights reflected in the Thames were magical. There were great swags of them, like necklaces, along the water’s edge. Behind them theatrical spotlights hit towers and palaces which were probably accountants’ offices if only we knew. The new Hungerford foot bridge glittered like a path of moonlight. And all of it gleamed and shifted like fairy gold reflected in the dark, dark water beneath.

All this sumptuousness went to our heads. In the sleety early morning we danced like Hades’ handmaidens until we were out of breath all over again.

And that was when Lucy started in on me. Alcohol and long disapproval made her wise.

‘The trouble is, Alice, is not the girl,’ she pronounced, slurring only a little.

What?’ Rachel missed a step.

Lucy and I held her up.

Lucy can be a bit abrasive when she is in one of her truth telling moods and she had shipped enough rum cocktails to get her there. Rachel, on the other hand, has a heart of warm butter, even when awash with alco pops.

‘Think about it, Ma. You and I think we’re Vivian.’ Lucy knows the script of Pretty Woman off by heart. It was her first grown up movie. ‘But Alice doesn’t. Alice is Edward Lewis.’

‘Alice has never looked at another woman,’ said Rachel foggily. She weaved a bit. Lucy steadied her. ‘I mean a woman. I mean – ‘

‘We know what you mean, Rache,’ I soothed. ‘Lucy isn’t calling me a closet dyke. She’s saying I blow into town for two weeks; then zip around in a limo doing deals. Then head back to London.’

Lucy nodded. ‘You even,’ she was warming to this, ‘have an ex spouse and an ex dog.’

‘Not together,’ I said, revolted.

My dog Elephant is a poodle – one of the original normal size ones that can give a Shetland pony a run for its money. He had moved in with Lucy and Rachel about a year ago when I started going to Irkutsk every two weeks. My ex husband was in Corfu with a succession of leggy blondes, as he had been for ten years and more. (I’m short and freckled with hedgehog brown hair I never get round to doing anything about.) Elephant and ex never even met.

‘Don’t be silly, Lucy.’ Rachel sounded almost angry. She looked at me worriedly. Did I say she was all heart?

‘It’s not silly. Alice’s life is nothing but business. True or not?’

‘We-ell,’ said Rachel reluctantly.

I was more robust. ‘Yup. All business it is. That’s how I like it.’

Lucy clicked her tongue. ‘You can do more than one thing, you know. Women are multi taskers.’

I stopped dead. The wind off the river lifted my hair like icy fingers. Suddenly I was sober. This was something on which I felt strongly.

‘Look,’ I said. ‘Some time in the sixties, some damn silly woman wrote a book saying women could have it all. Love. Family. High powered career. Great sex. And her own choice of hair colour thrown in. Women have been breaking their backs to do it ever since. And I’m here to tell you, it can’t be done.’

Lucy looked mutinous. ‘You’ve got the high powered career.’

‘Sure. And I enjoy it. But – and this is important Lucy. Are you listening? – that’s because it’s what I chose.

‘You’re saying if you want a decent job, you have to give up all the other stuff?’ She sounded scornful.

‘The gods say take what you want – but pay for it.’

‘Like you do, you mean? Borrowing other people’s children?’

At that Rachel went stone cold sober too. ‘Lucy!’

Oh, she’s good my Lucy. Stiletto in under the third rib when the opponent least expects it! And all for my own good, too. We ignored Rachel, eying each other like duellists.

‘There are women down at the gymn three times a week at six o clock in the morning, trying to have it all,’ I said. ‘They live on the edge of panic. And their husbands leave them anyway.’

Beside me, Rachel gave a sharp intake of breath.

‘Get real Lucy. Life is about choices. I made mine.’

She was a bit taken aback, I could tell. But she doesn’t give up easily. ‘Don’t you ever regret it?’

Rachel moved in closer. I could feel her at my shoulder, just as we had sat all those years ago in the draughty Southampton flat, while the baby cried and cried and none of the books told you what to do about it. That was three in the morning too, now I come to think about it.

‘Oh sure,’ I said steadily. ‘You regret the path not taken. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. My point is, you take one path. And do it properly.’

‘No fun? Ever?’

I sighed. She didn’t understand. But then very few people did, no matter how many times I said it.

‘For me business is fun. I love it. I don’t need to do anything else.’

Lucy dismissed that with a wave of a hand. I saw that she wasn’t wearing gloves. She was crazy. Sharp little splinters of January sleet sliced down onto any bit of exposed skin.

‘I’m going to bring you back some fur mittens from Khazakhstan,’ I said, momentarily distracted. ‘Your hands must be freezing.’

She gave a little crow of triumph. ‘You see. You don’t think about business all the time. You are still a human being underneath.’

Rachel put an arm round my waist. ‘She’s got a point there.’

I didn’t deny it.

‘What you need,’ said Lucy thoughtfully, ‘ is to try the Edward Lewis gambit.’

Her mother and I exchanged confused glances. ‘Sorry?’

She was impatient. ‘Edward Lewis. Out of Pretty Woman. Find yourself a bit of rough and give yourself a week of adventure. Well, a night, anyway.’

Lucy!‘ Rachel looked agonised.

But I was intrigued. One thing Lucy has learned from me is how to plan. For all the winsome partying, I began to suspect a quite careful strategic design to this evening.

‘Practical problem,’ I said casually, cunningly. ‘It’s not that easy to bump into a bit of rough.’ And I watched her.

She is promising; but still too inexperienced to hide it when a ploy begins to work. She grinned.

‘No, it isn’t. You can find it anywhere. There was Ben at the club tonight.’

I feigned puzzlement. ‘Ben?’

‘He was teaching you the merengue.’

Rachel moaned.

I didn’t. I was starting to enjoy this. I’m a negotiator, after all.

‘Lucy,’ I said softly, ‘I am not going to bed with a man with a safety pin through his stomach. It might catch on something.’

That brought her up short. For a moment she just glared. Then she broke into the frustration hop. I first saw her do her little dance on the spot when I picked her up from pre-school. It was enchanting – and very funny.

Rachel and I collapsed.

In the end, Lucy stopped dancing; even smiled reluctantly; and I called my chauffeur on the mobile to pick us up on Westminster Bridge.

He took them home first. Rachel lived out in the suburbs and I didn’t rely on either of them to give him decent directions.

‘Oh you,’ Lucy said, hugging me, as she scrambled out at Rachel’s cosy garden gate. ‘I suppose you’ll go on your own way, as you always do.’

‘I suppose I will.’ I hugged her back.

But as the car slid through the silent streets back to my riverside penthouse, I did think about what she had said. Of course I did.

Though I would have died rather than admit it to Lucy, she was right. Horribly right. Even more right than she knew. Because the business, though I loved it to bits, was coming slowly to a natural end.

Actually, I was really lucky that it had ever started at all. I mean, I’m not what you’d call natural millionaire material. I’m not brilliant and I don’t have Contacts. Well, I do now. I didn’t twelve years ago. That’s when it all began to happen.

There were three of us. First of all Haroun who is a computer geek. Well, he is probably a genius but he can’t talk to people. I think he keeps expecting them to have binary brains. The first sign of illogicality in someone and he starts throwing up his hands and saying he can’t cope. Haroun’s software was the reason there was a company at all.

Then there is Wil. He could sell you a dead rat if he put his mind to it.

And me.

So what do I do? Good question. They made me Chief Executive Officer. Basically because I’m a planner and I did the bits they didn’t like. And I’m good.

For instance, I’m responsible for the DFTC on the tee shirt. My first bit of company policy. In a lively six weeks Wil had dated and discarded our lush Australian temp and the despatcher had started writing sonnets to Haroun. The cramped office was a hotbed of hormones and hysterical weeping. Everything was getting done wrong and the clients were yelling.

‘Right,’ I said in the end. ‘Enough already. From now on, an interoffice affair gets the sack, instantly.’

I had company tee shirts printed: a lozenge with DFTC round it. It stood for Don’t Fuck the Company. Haroun used to spend his coffee breaks making up dog Latin tags that would fit too. He even offered a prize for the best at the Christmas party, as we grew and were big enough to have a Christmas party.

But everyone knew what it meant. And it worked. Like I said, I’m good.

We started in the heady days of glasnost. If you were doing business in the Wild East then, you know that the most critical thing was that nobody knew who to trust, on either side. Well, they trusted me. I told the truth, in spite of Haroun yelling that it was suicidal to be straight with a bunch of Mafiosi who were in the KGB last week. Also I didn’t let us take bribes or give them, although Wil said that was hopelessly naive. But I said we had to start as we meant to go on. And we did.

So, while other IT consultancies grew and grew until they blew up, we went steadily on at 15% growth a year until we made some serious money. Money enough to buy me a penthouse overlooking Chelsea Bridge and keep a chauffeur driven Jaguar on call, anyway.

Not money enough to give Elephant a decent quality of life or keep a relationship going.

So yes, I earned my salary. And no, it wasn’t going to last. We all knew that, though the other two had been carefully skirting round the subject since Christmas. The truth was, you see, that they didn’t know what to do about me.

We had a buyer for the company, which would be good for everyone. Our employees would get more money and a whole lot more opportunities. The shareholders (including us) would all get very rich. And the other two both had jobs to go to.

Haroun, being a genius, could do anything, of course – stay on as Head of Research with the new owners, teach, invent, write books. And Wil, I knew, was being wooed by a multi national.

Which just left me surplus to requirements. Everyone knew it. No one actually talked about it. They were all waiting for me to call Time! And soon – soon – I was going to have to do it.

So after I got out of the Jaguar and said goodnight to Gordon the chauffeur, I didn’t go to bed, that cold January dawn. I went out on my penthouse terrace and watched the ghostly greyness brighten along the dark snake of river. A few birds started a brave dawn chorus across the way in Battersea Park.

Dawn is not a good time to think. Especially not when it’s really, really cold. Especially not on top of too many rum cocktails with an empty flat behind you.

I liked my life. I didn’t want it to change.

I could see all too clearly what would happen if the company was sold. Oh, I’d get another job. But it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be with friends I’d worked through the night with, who’d seen me through the divorce.

Face it, Alice – they are your family.

Without them, I knew all too well what I would turn into – a hanger on with a job anyone could do. Plenty of money , sure. Nothing meaningful to do with it. Lucy was right, damn her. I’d turn into a highjacker of other people’s children

That was when I thought the Edward Lewis Gambit? Well, why not?

At once, I caught myself. It was too crazy. I’d given up sex pretty much when marriage gave up on me. Apart from the odd wistful moment looking at honeymooners on my plane sometimes, I’d never really missed it that much. As I said to Lucy, you take what you want; and you pay for it.

So I put the nasties out of my mind and went back to work, blessed work. And forgot the Edward Lewis Gambit. Or at least, I thought I did.

But the next morning, I pulled myself together and did the decent thing. Everyone in the company heaved a sigh of relief. It took some intense negotiating to get a fair deal for everyone. I enjoyed that.

But then the deal went through and Haroun and I went on whistle stop tour of the clients with the incoming CEO.

The last place was Almaty. It felt appropriate somehow, the meeting point of the mighty Tien Shan mountains and thousands of miles of frozen prairie. Believe me, Khazakhstan in January is bleak. And wind blown.

The wind reminded me. ‘I must buy Lucy some of those fur mittens,’ I said to Haroun. ‘This will be my last chance. I doubt if I’ll ever come back.’

He knows Lucy. Rachel has invited him over for family meals a couple of times, in spite of his hopelessness with people. Or maybe because of it. He does a very good lost little boy genius when the mood takes him. And he has eyelashes to die for. They help.

He said, ‘I’ll come with you.’

But thinking of the mittens and Lucy must have made the Edward Lewis Gambit bubble up out of the hot geyser of the subconscious. And suddenly I thought – this is my last chance for that too.

So I got vague and said I didn’t know when I would go, I would just squeeze it in during the day.

Maybe he was a bit hurt. I was never sure with Haroun. But I didn’t have time to think about it. I had to concentrate during the day’s meetings. And all the time the little pendulum was clicking away in my head.

Last! Chance! Last! Chance!

Go on Alice! Are you a woman or a mouse?

So I said to the interpreter – ‘Where would you go if you wanted to – well – meet people?’

The trouble was the interpreter already knew me. He would never have imagined that I was on the hunt for a bit of rough. Never in month of Sundays. He told me kindly to go to the open air skating rink, up the mountain.

I sighed. I’d been before. It was terrific. On a Sunday afternoon, half the families of the city seem to get out there. The ice turns to slush round the edges and kids fall over and lovers show off to each other. They play a lot of ABBA and it is all incredibly wholesome and friendly. Not what I was looking for at all.

So I tried the concierge, the maid, the student moonlighting as barman at the lobby bar, a couple of waiters. They suggested everything from a primary school (cultural exchange) to the space museum (historical interest). Nobody came up with anything remotely useable. It was profoundly depressing.

And then there was a knock on the door of my room. I opened it.

‘I hear you want to do the town,’ said Haroun without expression. ‘Get your coat.’

I flushed. I mean, an adventure on my own, in decent privacy was one thing. Having my friends along to do the driving was something completely different. Besides – Haroun!

Perhaps this is where I should explain about Haroun. Yes, he’s a geek. Yes, he’s blank about people. He’s also beautiful. Quite apart from the eyelashes, he is tall and walks with that liquid rhythm that makes you think that’s how angels must move in Heaven. He has that far away poetic look – usually because he’s not paying attention -but I’ve always understood why the smitten despatcher went for literary tributes. And a mouth that makes even quite sensible people like Rachel think hot and lustful thoughts.

In the matter of girl friends, he has even more blondes than my ex husband. They don’t last. But, to a woman, they are stunning.

And this was the man intending to accompany me on my last chance adventure. I went pink to my freckled ears. I mumbled something about not wanting to interfere with his plans. Even to me it didn’t sound convincing.

Haroun didn’t even pretend to believe me.

‘You want to go clubbing? Fine. Let’s go.’

It wasn’t exactly an alluring invitation. He sounded grim. I said so. I got quite indignant about it.

‘Aren’t I allowed to enjoy myself? Is that just for the chaps?’

‘You’ve never wanted to before.’

I sniffed. ‘How do you know?’

‘DFTC,’ he said wryly.

‘Oh that’s just nonsense. Just because I didn’t date the payroll . . .’

‘Or anyone else,’ said Haroun between his teeth.

‘You don’t know that,’ I said, glaring.

‘Yes I do.’

‘You don’t know everything about me.’

His teeth flashed in a really nasty smile then. ‘Want a bet?’

Oh God, I thought suddenly. It’s happening already. This man was my friend, my family. And next week he’ll be across town in a building I don’t even know and we won’t speak every day any more. And already he’s behaving like a stranger.

It was like divorce all over again. Worse.

I said abruptly, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to go out after all. I’ll just stay here and wind up my valedictory report.’

‘Oh no you won’t,’ said Haroun. ‘You’re coming with me.’ And he put his shoulder against the doorjamb so I couldn’t close it.

He’s like that. He doesn’t argue. He focuses. And waits.

So I went. Mutinous and muttering. But I went. It was easier. When Haroun makes his mind up about something, it usually is.

The club wasn’t at all like Lucy’s heaving strobe-stroked cellar. For one thing it was cavernous. For another the music was live. But the dervish dancing was the same. And so were the sweating stripped-to-the-bone bodies.

Haroun left me the moment we walked in. An exuberant group of girls waved him in and absorbed him. Pretty soon he was dancing with the whole damn bunch of them.

Khazakhstan isn’t just a meeting point for geographical features. There was every shape and race in that room. Square faced, muscular Chinese; small mountain men with eyes as far away as Haroun’s; slight, graceful Pakistanis; ginger haired Ukrainians; ice blond Estonians; men with triangular faces and the half closed, slanted eyes of the cruel Mongol invaders.

Actually it was a Ghenghiz Khan look alike who bought me a vodka and came closest to fulfilling the evening’s objective. He was an economist called Ivan and he told me in his fluent movie-goer’s English that he thought English women were hot. He had a nice body, no safety pins and he kissed nicely. Only – I’d lost the urge somehow.

Across the room, Haroun and his netball team of admirers were punching the air to the music. He had his back to me.

I said to Ivan, ‘Look, I’m sorry. I’ve just thought of something I ought to put in my report. I really ought to go back and finish it.’

He was amazingly nice about it. Nicer than I deserved in the circumstances. Economists, he said largely, understood the importance of reports. He called me a taxi, took me out to it and then stood there in the snow, the sweat evaporating off him in cloud of steam, waving me off. Much, much nicer than I deserved.

I sat in my luxury suite and looked out over the ice landscape. Well, I’d blown my last chance at adventure. Obviously I was just the wrong type. Too hidebound. To critical. Too old. Not too old because of the thirty seventh birthday on the horizon. Too old because of the person I was. And probably always had been.

I barely noticed the scratch on the door. When I did, I ignored it. It was two o clock in the morning, for Christ’s sake. It occurred to me that the student barman would just have come off duty and might have decided to check whether I still needed company. I knew I wasn’t up to any further failed adventures. So I went on ignoring it.

And then a small piece of paper shot under the door. I got up wearily and read it.

Open up it said in Haroun’s unmistakable black slashing letters.

I was astonished. Surely Haroun would still be dancing with his chorus of houris?

But the gentle scratching came again. There was something about the way he did it that told me he wasn’t going to go away. Par for the course, that.

So I squared my shoulders and opened the door. ‘Back already? I thought you could party for Britain – ‘

And suddenly there I was, with Haroun’s arms crushing me, not able to speak, not able to breathe any more.

It was really very odd. I mean, I’ve known him for ever. We’ve kissed lots of times. Hello … goodbye … celebrating success … hanging on after failure …

But not like this. Never like this.

I suppose it could have been the full body contact. Or the dark. Or the unpeopled hotel, with all its electric and the water systems purring and gurgling like a sleeping mastodon. Or the fuzzy moon outside my balcony and the silent night snowscape below. Or – or –

Or shock, actually.

Full body contact with Haroun wasn’t what I was expecting. I mean – you get used to people being that critical nine inches away. I’d concentrated on the eyelashes and the intellect and I’d put him in the No Sex With Me Box. Even before the instigation of the DFTC policy.

But when you’re too close to see the eyelashes and the intellect isn’t in evidence you start to take in other things. Like his smell – sort of toffee with a hint of oregano. And his hair – kind of crackly under my fingers. And his hands – frankly, everywhere.

‘Good God.’ I said, when I could breathe. It came from the heart.

‘About time,’ said Haroun, taking my clothes off.

He was surprisingly good at it. Well, maybe not surprisingly, now I come to think about it. Only my clothes hadn’t been taken off by anyone else for a long time and it felt a bit embarrassing to be honest.

Except Haroun doesn’t do embarrassment. He does, with total concentration, the thing he happens to be engaged with at the time. That night it was me.

He’s a geek, I kept reminding myself, as clothes flew and pillows thumped. Okay a geek with eyelashes. But still a geek.

I found my hips still had full backward rotation. Just as well in the circumstances.

And it wasn’t just the chandelier swinging potential, that was a revelation either. Because suddenly Haroun was transformed. He was murmuring things like, ‘rarer than rubies’ and ‘a pearl beyond price’. And he was kissing me. And I mean kissing. All over. Like I’d never been kissed before. Like I’d never imagined being kissed. As if it was scheduled to take a hundred and one nights and he wasn’t about to hurry it.

I made some interesting discoveries. Geeks are thorough. And original. And they don’t care how long it takes.

Oh boy, they don’t care how long it takes.

We did fall asleep in the end. Well – fall. In my case crash would be a better word. I was shaken to the core. One or two muscles were in deep shock, too

But the real hit was – the feelings. Laughter, lots of it. Passion of an eye-watering intensity. But there turned out to be kindness too; and an odd rueful fellow feeling. It was as if Haroun and I were a pair and I had only just realised it.

When I woke up, my first thought was Wow.

My second was, I don’t believe it.

My third – how the hell am I going to make Haroun see that we belong together?

The last was so depressing that I could have screamed. I mean Haroun has many qualities, and I admire nearly all of them, but he doesn’t listen to anyone else. He works stuff out for himself or it stays unworked out.

Listen to me? Fat chance.

But my body hadn’t grasped that. My body was all soft and purring and ignored my brain when it screamed, ‘Get up and do something.’

My body was still snuggled up to Haroun when, eventually he stretched and yawned and woke up.

‘Morning,’ he said not opening his eyes.

I wondered bitterly if he knew which member of the netball team was beside him.

I swallowed. ‘Good morning,’ I said politely.

His eyes flew open at that. At three inches distance, the eyelashes were amazing.

‘Now what’s wrong?’ he said patiently.

I suppose I could have said, I’ve just realised that I’m in love with you and it’s absolutely no use because you don’t think of me like that and my body thinks you do and this is going to be worse than divorce and the sale of the company and no Father Christmas all rolled into one . . .

And he said – he said –

‘Your place or mine?’


He shifted himself onto one elbow so he could look down at me. We’d made love in the moonlight last night, so I hadn’t really taken in the beauty of his colour scheme: dark toffee eyes, golden fudge skin, liquorice eyelashes. Scrummy.

He said patiently, ‘Where are we going to live? Your place or mine?’

I gagged. I mean, how many breakthroughs is a girl suppose to make in a day? Only yesterday he was the genius I worked with who I was never going to see again after this trip.

‘L-l-live together?’

‘For a start. What did you think last night was about?’

‘Sex,’ I said, shaken into honesty.

The dark toffee eyes went wicked. ‘Ah, we’re talking about the Edward Lewis gambit are we?’

Oh Lucy, you traitress!

I went scarlet from toenails to hairline. I would have pulled the covers over my head and gladly died. Only he wouldn’t let me.

‘You had your chance at a one night stand last night. You could have had Ivan or one of his mates,’ said Haroun, like a judge summing up. ‘You blew it.’ He started to do seriously disturbing things without taking his eyes from mine. ‘I claim my prize.’

A long, long long time later, I said dreamily, ‘Of course you can’t really have it all. Not for long. But just sometimes you get a perfect moment. . .’

‘And this is your perfect moment?’

I could hear the smile in his voice. I had my head on his chest by this time and I could hear it, all echoey, as if the smile was going round and round inside his body. It set up a nice little reverberation in mine too.

I sighed blissfully. ‘Nothing left to wish for.’

I thought he’d say likewise or something similar. But he didn’t. He lay under me. I could almost hear him smiling. But he didn’t say it was perfect.

‘You?’ I prompted, piqued.

He stretched. ‘I’ve got one thing left to wish for.’

Aha, I thought suddenly, here it comes, the proposal of marriage. How glamorous! How romantic!

‘Yes?’ I said starry eyed.

But Haroun was on another tack altogether. Like I said, a geek at heart.

‘DFTC,’ he snorted. ‘When we get home I’m burning those bloody tee shirts.’