For breakfast, he ordered a slab of carrot cake, coated in thick, creamy icing, and a small mug filled to the brim with a fresh, well made latte. He ate it with a plastic fork, off a ceramic plate, and glanced around at the slowly filling cafe.
‘Hi, hi. Yes, hi, Arianna.’
‘Pete, but yes, hi.’
‘Pete. You look different.’
His hair was bleached in places from the sun, and the tops of his cheeks and his nose were red, browning. He seemed thinner. His face was sharper, his arms almost scrawny. He wore a bright green polo shirt, and on his wrist was a ring of pasty white against the browny red of his forearms, where he must have worn a watch. Why did he take it off, then?
She sat down in front of him, her clothes pristine, sharp edged, and her hair cut short and straight, not a wisp out of place, despite it being loose around her face.
Her face was clear, symmetrical. She was neither pretty nor ugly, nor was she plain. She just was.
‘Arianna. You don’t.’
Neither of them smiled.
‘Right.’ Arianna pulled a small black folder from her neat bag. It looked as though it fit inside perfectly, neither too big nor too small. He eyed the folder and the bag, then scratched his neck irritably.
‘Let’s get cracking.’ Pete said, and he shoved the last mouthful of oozing carrot cake into his wide mouth, his cold, blue eyes on the folder that Arianna was now sifting through. He swigged at his latte, and then pushed his plate and cup away, folding his arms on the table and leaning forward as though he were at a social gathering, and about to enjoy himself.
Arianna glanced up at him, then quickly down when she realised he was looking at her.
‘Right,’ she said again, ‘right.’
Arianna pulled out some documents. She leant over, her straight brown hair falling over her face, and pulled a pen out of her bag, which nestled by her gleaming high heels.
‘You will need to sign here,’ she pointed with the end of the pen, ‘and here.’
‘Right, yep.’ Pete pulled the papers towards him, and as he did the bottom part of the paper rubbed against a glop of carrot cake icing on the table, smearing the underside of the crisp paper.
‘Right.’ Arianna said, noticing, and she made the slightest of grimaces. Pete did not notice, as he signed his life away.
‘Right,’ and he slid the papers over to Arianna again, leaving a trail of smeared cream across the table as he did so.
‘You okay?’ Pete took another swig of his latte, eyebrows raised in question over the rim of his mug.
‘Yes, I’m fine.’
‘Going to Spain?’
‘Oh.’ he paused, then raised his eyebrows again at her, when she didn’t fill the silence between them.
‘It fell through.’
‘Company decided to send someone else.’
‘Well. Too bad. I’m great. Had a court hearing last week, for punching a man in the face.’
‘Yeah. Punched him because he was abusing his girlfriend.’
‘He deserved it. Right twit. I don’t regret it. And I was feeling terrible because I’d lost mine. And there he was shouting at his, while he still had her. Fuckin’ prick. Mind you, I wasn’t that great to you myself, was I… so.. What’s wrong?’
‘You’re peaky as fuck.’
‘I fainted. At work.’
Pete sat back, and swallowed.
‘That’s not nice.’
‘You deserve it.’
‘Yeah, you deserve it.’ Pete pursed his thin lips, nodding a little, and his eyes were full of anger when he looked at her.
Arianna stood up.
‘Call me soon.’ Pete looked up at her, and despite his cold, cold face full of hostility, she could see the desperation in his ocean blue eyes.
‘Yup.’ Arianna walked away quickly, her sharp, pointy heels clicking on the wooden floors of the cafe, the sound swallowed into the loud babble of voices that took over the cafe as she got further away from him.
Pete watched her go, picking absently at the crumbs on his plate. She exited the cafe, then stood outside for a second. He frowned as she put her face up to the sky, her shoulders rising deeply then falling, before walking across the road. She didn’t glance back once.
His shaky fingers, the nail beds black and grimy, pulled a cigarette and a lighter from his pockets, and he stood up to walk jerkily outside the cafe, where he lit up and took a deep drag, closing his eyes against the bright sun of summer on his face.