In his sixties now and yet Delaney found his heart still mocked him. His dream of Maeve — the man she was with so tall Delaney had woken with his neck sore from looking up at him — fretted the morning so that he burnt the bacon, broke the eggs and ended up feeding Pauline, the wife he never dreamed about, muesli instead of the fry he’d promised her the night before.
He waited for Maeve that afternoon at their usual place, a café they had gone to when they were students. He watched through the window as she threaded her way across the busy road, a tall woman grown thick and solid, but blessed still with that well-favoured face. The curling hair Delaney had been enraptured by when they were both young she kept long, though its gold was now all gone to silver. This day she had on the raincoat she always looked so well in and the bright print dress — he could see the skirt of it as she walked — she knew he liked to see her wear. She looked well, and so she should for she was only a day or so back from her holiday.
“Jack,” she said, letting go of him after their kiss. “How are you?”
“I’m grand. And yourself?”
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“Grand,” she said, pulling the chair away from the table to sit down.
“You look it. The holiday has done you good. You’ve a great colour.”
“And put on a good few pounds where I’d sooner not!”
“You wouldn’t notice,’ he said. ‘You look — grand.’”
“And I feel it, Jack. I really do.”
They were on their second cups of coffee when Maeve said she had some news for him. “I met someone while I was away, Jack. A man.”
“A man?” he said. “You mean a — a holiday romance? A fling? At your age?”
Maeve, shifting in her chair, said, “Not a fling. It’s serious. He proposed.”
“You’re joking! Proposed? And what did you say?”
“That I’d think about it, but I don’t have to. I’m going to tell him the answer’s yes. Well, I will the next time I see him.”
“The next time you see him? Is he local or what?”
She shook her head, setting her hair to dance. “He’s English. Lives in Cumbria. I’m going over there next week.”
Delaney found himself looking up at the ceiling as he had looked up at the tall fellow in his dream. When he lowered his eyes again, they were brimming. “But I love you, Maeve. I’ve loved you for so long. Since we were kids.”
“I know,” she said. “I know.”
“You’re not free, Jack. You have Pauline.”
“We’re lovers, Maeve,” Delaney said, lowering his voice.
“Were, Jack, we were. When we were free to be.” Maeve sighed and looked away for a moment. When she turned back to Delaney, she said, “Look, I’ve told him about you. About us. He understands.”
“But marriage? You wouldn’t marry me when I asked you. When we could have.”
“I wasn’t sure.”
“And with this fellow you are?”
“Then I’ve lost you.”
“You have not. Jack, listen to me, what matters is the love we have and always will have.”
“It isn’t the love I’ve wanted. You know that and…”
“But it’s what we have. Be glad for it. I am.”
Delaney, pale, perspiring, put his hand to his chest, so that Maeve, her voice fearful of a sudden, asked was he all right.
“It’s my neck,” he said, staring past her at nothing in particular.