Who: Wayne Hopkins, Louisa Macnair
Where: 7 Fat Friar Lane
When: 7 October 2001, evening
Wayne went quiet as he pushed open the door to their shared building and they started climbing the stairs to their respective flats. While they’d been away on holiday he’d successfully managed to forget everything and just enjoy himself, but now it was back to reality. Back to sitting around in his flat waiting to find out if he’d ever get to go back to work.
And first he had to say goodbye to Louisa. After sharing a hotel room for four days, their current living arrangement felt vaguely ridiculous — the very definition of “so close, and yet so far.” He’d liked waking up next to her every day. He’d been weirdly pleased by the sight of their toothbrushes sharing a cup by the bathroom sink. He was going to miss that. He was going to miss her, even though she lived basically 20 feet away.
As they reached her door he caught her looking at him, and he quickly put on a forced smile. He didn’t want to be a downer. “Well, this is your stop,” he said, setting down his bag so he could say goodbye properly.
Louisa could tell that Wayne was feeling sad to come back from holiday, and with the worries he had at home, she couldn’t exactly blame him. For herself, she was rather looking forward to a long bath with a book, on her own. Louisa enjoyed Wayne’s company for sure, but a long weekend was a long time for her to spend in anyone’s company. She would miss waking up with him, though. He was always so sweet and attentive, even when it was the hotel doing the cooking.
She smiled back. “I had a nice time,” she said, and meant it. Louisa reached out and took his hand.
“Me too,” Wayne replied, interlacing his fingers with hers. “Maybe I could meet you up for lunch on Wednesday? If you’re not sick of me.” He’d wanted to suggest dinner tomorrow, but he really didn’t want Louisa to get sick of him… And anyway, lunch would give him something to do to break up a long day of not working.
Wednesday would mean she had an evening alone. That was good. So she said, “Wednesday sounds good. My lunchbreak is at 1.”
There was a pause for a second, and Louisa leaned in for a goodbye kiss. She loved kissing him. She’d probably love kissing in general, but as she didn’t have the relevant experience to make that assertion, she didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.
Wayne kissed her back, and then leaned his forehead against hers for a moment. There was a lot he wanted to say, about how happy he was that she’d agreed to go away with him, and how much it meant that she was being so unquestioningly supportive through all this stuff with work. And how sometimes — most of the time — he couldn’t believe how lucky he was that she actually wanted to date him. But instead he just took a deep breath and said, “OK. I love you. See you Wednesday.”
There, he’d done it. He’d tried to sound casual, just throwing it out there like he’d said it a hundred times before, but in truth his heart was suddenly racing and his palms had gone sweaty. He leaned in for another quick kiss goodbye, partly for the excuse to avoid making eye contact.
The tone threw Louisa off a little. It didn’t make it sound more casual so much as it made her question whether she had really just heard what she thought she had heard. Surely he would have… done that differently? But she was still holding his hand, and she could feel the sweat growing. That meant she was supposed to say something back.
“Okay,” she said. She knew the protocol was to say thank you, but it seemed so weird. She would rather he not said it, so why thank him? “Um.” He felt like he might be about to run, so she held his hand tighter — sweat and all — because she knew he’d kick himself if he did.
“I like you,” she said. “And I mean… this is all new to me, you know. Dating. So…”
She didn’t really have anything else to say. She just hoped he understood that he was special just by virtue of her actually dating someone. She didn’t do dating. She was suspicious of love. Love made people do stupid things, like stay with their abusive husband. She’d never consciously decided she wasn’t having any of it, but her lack of former relationships wasn’t really an accident.
Wayne nodded quickly, working hard to keep his face blank and emotionless. “Yeah, no, I get it.” He’d tried not to have any expectations for how she might respond, telling himself this was just about being honest about how he felt, but — now that it was actually happening, he kind of just wished the floor would swallow him up so he could nurse his disappointment in private. And she was being so nice about it. Of course she was. Because she was kind of perfect, and he was the one who made things weird and awkward.
And he probably would have run then, but — she hadn’t pulled away from him. She was still holding his hand. He looked down at their entwined fingers and tried to figure out something, anything to say that would make them both feel better.
“It’s really okay,” he finally said. “It’s just how I feel, and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to rush you or anything. I’m happy if things just stay the same.” He looked up and gave her a tentative smile. “Okay?” Please let things just stay the same, he thought fervently.
“Of course,” Louisa said, whilst mentally wondering if she could get out of lunch on Wednesday. She didn’t want to break up or anything, but the feeling of needing space was more pressing than ever.
“We’ll just… see how it goes.” She gave a tentative smile back.
Well, that… didn’t seem promising. Wayne kept his smile pasted on as he gave her hand another squeeze before dropping it and reaching to pick up his bag again. “Okay,” he said again, even though things really didn’t feel okay. Should he kiss her again, just for some sense of normalcy? But she didn’t exactly look like she wanted to be kissed. He gave her a little wave with his free hand and then turned to head up the stairs, his face falling into an expression of misery the moment he was facing away from her.
He just wished he’d never said anything at all.
Louisa could tell Wayne wasn’t exactly happy, in spite of the frozen smile, but she felt powerless to do anything about it. She was so busy dealing with her own feelings — of awkwardness, and an inexplicable urge to run — that she didn’t have the wherewithal to try and salvage his. She watched him walk away with a troubled expression on her face and when he disappeared from view, closed her eyes and leaned the back of her head against the wall. Rowena, it was too much. She wasn’t ready for this. It had already been moving fast, but this was a whole nother level. Louisa stood like that for a few minutes, then turned and went into her flat, hoping that if Ben was in, he would sense he needed to leave her well alone.