8 May 2003
She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when she met him. It was a Friday. He was out on the lash with a gang of workmates, boys from finance, getting the drinks in on the month's bonus. She was working an unexpected shift to pay for her postgraduate course fees.
It was a standard busy evening, and she initially didn't register his lopsided smile or scattered freckles, but simply his presence at the bar. For his part, he didn't see past her brisk flirtatious manner and sleek red hair to the crescent-shaped scar on her left cheekbone or her surprisingly thick eyelashes.
The boys wanted lychee martinis. As she bent over to find the fruit in the fridge, one of them caught a clip of her on his phone swinging down, ass curving up in the air. As they replayed it out of her view, he saw how gracefully her hips slid as she hunted for the lychees. At the lower end of his subconscious something clicked and he unconsciously upgraded her from a potential shag to something more.
When her shift ended he bought her a large drink. She accepted this, and his proffered cigarettes and light. On the pretext of checking his text messages, he took a picture of her lighting up and sent it to a mate in Liverpool for a second opinion. The mate replied in the affirmative and commented on the pertness of her breasts. She suspected he was taking her picture but it was two in the morning; she didn't care.
They went back to hers and fucked all night.
Before he woke, she sent a photo of him sleeping to her best friend; partly proof of conquest but also as a memento of how perfect his freckles and pale skin was in the early morning light. While she made coffee he sent a photo of her room with their discarded clothes on the floor, her knickers flung over a chair, to his Liverpool mate. They made Saturday morning bed talk about her photography, his job, growing up in a small town, the bustle of Manchester, and her vegan beliefs. Spurred by the remembrance of how well their bodies had fitted together, they agreed to meet the following week for a drink, and possibly the cinema.
After their fourth date, when their mutual attraction was transformed into "boyfriend" and "girlfriend", he consented to her sending a photo of him to her circle of friends. She felt that his smile in the posed picture was too forced and symmetrical, so sent round another photo taken secretly when he was laughing at something on the television. She assumed that he didn't discuss his relationships enough with his mates to warrant a photo of her being sent round. He didn't let on that a close-up image of her breasts had done the rounds of the boys in finance, and that his old school mates had seen a clip of her soaping herself up in the shower. He had no idea that the picture of him she'd sent round was to match a face to the picture of his cock that she'd distributed a week earlier; she'd taken it when giving him head and it had come out surprisingly clearly, the pinks and purples bright against her white sheets.
Their relationship settled into the rhythms of millions like it. She listened to him bitch about his office politics, and the drinking habits of his boss. He gave her neck rubs when she'd strained taking wide-angle pictures of tall buildings and trees for one of her projects. She became accustomed to falling asleep with her face in the back of his neck. He knew how phone calls to her mother left her upset, and how she became excited when he licked the small webbing inbetween her fingers. She was happiest curled up, face in his lap, watching science-fiction films, his fingers running through her hair; at those times, he could feel her breathing warm against his thighs and his heartbeat would slow and relax.
He realised that he needed her forever when he went on a training course to Boston. She had just finished her degree and was freelancing, taking pictures of old ships for a classier type of holiday company. Stuck in his mid-range hotel with the minibar and late night wrestling, he turned to the collection of pictures of her that he'd stored in his phone and laptop. The images were an equal spilt between hard-core porn, close-ups of her scar, lips, and cleavage, and saccharine photos of the pair of them together. None of them sufficed; not alone or in combination. The shots of her grinning like a lunatic on Blackpool beach, or posed in stockings and basque, were not enough. The short clip she emailed over of her dancing on their bed to bhangra music with hair flying everywhere - that, there, was the deciding factor.
The smell of the back of her knees after a bath; the sliding curve of her button nose when he ran his finger down it. The imprint of her cheekbone scar when he pressed his top lip to it was in his mind on the flight back. Her "butterfly kisses" on his upper arms. The strange cocktail of scents, of coconut conditioner, sweat and fresh toast that hung above the bed after sex.
He proposed in the arrivals lounge and she accepted, bouncing up and down on her toes. She took a picture of the ring, one he'd found in the thrift shop off Harvard Square, and sent the fuzzy image to her mother.