Since asking Anna out, Paul had cooled somewhat. There was no way she could be interested, and in any case, his life was already complicated enough. After the divorce, he’d vowed “never again”, so why was he tempting fate? The only way to play this was to put any thoughts of romance out of his mind.
She arrived almost fifteen minutes late. He thought she’d stood him up. When she finally arrived, she explained that the Northern Line had been suspended – a suspect package – but had started again after five long minutes.
And so they bowled. It might have been one of the works nights out. The chatting was quite effortless, the alcohol greased the wheels. He told her about Jake, about Beth, about how his mum lived not far away, aged 79 now, and how he often helped out with odds and ends. Anna was still in the house in Camden, not far from the canal, that she had shared as a student – besides, renting in London was so expensive. One of Anna’s favourite days out was to go clothes shopping at the market there. She told him about her family, that she was already an auntie, almost twice! She hadn’t intended to, but decided to tell him about the job offer. Even her best friend Asha, who’d studied alongside Anna, and who still shared a house with her, got a mention.
The first game was a whitewash, Anna winning by more than forty points. The second was closer – seventeen points. Paul had insisted on a “decider”, he wasn’t particularly competitive, but he was enjoying himself. The second frame, however, was to be their last, Not seeing the spilled drink on the floor, Paul slipped. He almost – not quite – regained his balance and grabbed onto the seating to stop himself from falling completely, bending his thumb backwards.
Nursing a very red thumb, Paul conceded defeat. He was not sure if he’d broken anything, so wanted to get himself checked out at the hospital – the Princess Victoria was only a mile away, and they catered for emergencies. It was already late, so Paul prepared to say his goodbyes, but Anna would not hear of it, she was coming with him. They found a minicab very quickly, checked in at the hospital, and settled in for a long wait.
As it happened, the NHS was having a good night. Only a four-hour wait to be seen. Then another 45 minutes while the X-Ray team was paged. Neither of them would be much use at work tomorrow!
The final verdict? Badly bruised, but not broken. Take paracetamol until the pain became bearable. They had, at least, put the thumb into a bandage for him. The tired junior doctor probably thought of this as success, another satisfied customer, if he thought anything at all behind those eyes, blanked from working twenty hours straight. Paul couldn’t help wondering whether he’d have been better off just going home and wrapping his thumb in some frozen peas.
It was approaching dawn when they got out into the open air. Deflated, Paul felt he had wasted not only his time, but hers too. They shared a minicab, which would drop Paul off first, then continue on to Anna’s. What a night! Outside Paul’s bedsit, Paul could only apologise one last time for the mess. To his surprise, she pecked him on the cheek and said “don’t worry, we’ll have to be more careful next time”.
“Next time” – those two little words that made Paul’s evening.