‘Twelve dozen roses, please. The red ones.’ The man wiped his flushed face, then pointed to a bucket of wilting flowers.
Olivia forced a smile, biting back a response that a dozen was twelve, so if he wanted twelve dozen, that would equal . . . Well, it would equal one hell of a lot of roses. Possibly way more than they had in Spence’s Supermarket, even today when they’d ordered in extra to meet the Valentine’s rush.
The man shot her a shy smile as she tried in vain to fish twelve fresh-looking roses from the bucket.
‘This is my first Valentine’s Day with my girlfriend,’ he said. ‘I want to make it extra special.’
Olivia nodded, trying to keep her face neutral. A glob of slimy green water dripped from a rose’s stem onto her beige trousers, and frustration swirled inside. Great – now she’d have to change before Jonathan got home, just on the off chance he’d planned something for tonight. She knew that in all likelihood, he’d be tired and stressed after a long day at work, seeking the comfort of the sofa and the latest football match replays. But maybe this year would be the one when he’d finally present her with a bouquet of flowers – one of those expensive arrangements, tied with a satin bow; nothing like these second-rate roses – and take her chin in the way that made her heart flip over, look into her eyes . . . and finally, finally say he loved her? Two years they’d been together, and she’d yet to hear those three little words.
‘Er, how much?’ the man in front of her stammered. Olivia gave herself a little shake, realising she was just standing there holding out the stems.
‘That will be sixty pounds, please.’ Obscene, really, given these flowers would probably be curling up and brown by tomorrow. Still, it was the gesture that counted, right?
Or was it? Olivia chewed her lower lip as she watched the man scurry out through the shop’s sliding doors to the busy London street. Jonathan did loads of little things that showed he loved her. Every morning, he made her coffee before she left for her shift at Spence’s. He always washed the dishes she left lying around in the sink, forgotten, and he was a star at vacuuming. Whenever she had a killer migraine, he was unfailingly kind and patient, endlessly bringing her wet towels to place on her pounding forehead. He did love her; she felt it all the time. So why oh why couldn’t he just say those three bloody words and get it over with?
‘Anything big planned for Valentine’s tonight?’ Her co-worker Tina waggled her eyebrows as she came to relieve Olivia from flower-stand duties.
Olivia gathered up her tatty handbag and took a swipe at the glob on her trousers again. Nope, it looked like that spot was there to stay. ‘Oh, you know. The usual, I guess.’ She shrugged, trying to look like she didn’t care. ‘You?’
‘My boyfriend just called!’ Tina said excitedly. ‘And when I’m off in a couple hours, he’s going to take me for a champagne ride on the London Eye. He’s rented a whole capsule just for us.’ She clasped her hands to her heart. ‘I can’t believe he did that. Do you know how much those things costs? I certainly got lucky with him.’
‘That’s fantastic,’ Olivia said, hoping her words sounded more enthusiastic than begrudging. God, a champagne ride on the London Eye. On Valentine’s Day! In her mind’s eye, Olivia could imagine swooping up over the city, taking in Big Ben and Saint Paul’s as tiny bubbles tickled the back of her throat. Unexpectedly, tears pricked her eyes, and she dropped her head before Tina could notice. ‘Well, I’d better get home! See you later.’
As she pushed through the crowds of shoppers on Camden High Street – every second man wielding a bouquet of flowers – toward the flat she shared with Jonathan, anger thumped inside, growing and growing with each step. She wasn’t asking for a champagne ride on a city landmark, as much as she’d like it. No, all she wanted was to hear that the man she loved – and the man she’d been living with for the past year – loved her! For God’s sake, that wasn’t too much to ask, was it?
Maybe . . . maybe the time had come to put a stake in the ground. To see how he really felt, for once and for all. She wasn’t going to hang around waiting any longer.
Olivia swung open the door, full of determination. Good, it was still dark, which meant Jonathan hadn’t come back yet. She’d have a nice bath, pour herself a glass of wine, and when he returned she’d sit him down and ask – in a calm, cool voice without any hysterics – if he loved her. And if he didn’t? Olivia pushed the thought from her mind. He did. She knew he did. She just needed to hear it.
As she hung up her coat, her ears cocked at a sound in the kitchen. ‘Jonathan?’ Was someone there?
There was a crash and a bang, and then she heard him swearing. ‘Hi, hon!’
What on earth was he doing? And why was he home already? Well, at least she could get this over with. Taking a deep breath, Olivia strode into the kitchen. ‘Jonathan, we need to talk. I—’ Her mouth flopped open mid-sentence as she took in the sight before her.
Every dish they owned was spread out on the counter. Steam rose from something bubbling on the hob, while foamy liquid boiled over the sides of a pot, hissing as it met the hot burner. A strange smell tainted the air, something like . . . well, Olivia couldn’t even identify it. And in the midst of it all, her usually cool, calm boyfriend was darting from oven to counter and back again like a caffeinated gopher.
‘What are you doing?’ Olivia finally asked.
Jonathan gave her a sheepish grin. ‘Making a mess of things. I wanted to cook you a nice dinner tonight. I know I’ve been a bit tied up with work lately, and, well . . . I wanted to make it up to you. I’ve been slaving away for hours here. But I’m afraid it’s better suited to the rubbish bin than our dinner table.’ He grimaced as he glanced around the kitchen. ‘What did you want to ask me?’ He came over and put his arms around her waist, drawing her up against him.
Olivia looked into his eyes. Jonathan didn’t even seem to realise today was Valentine’s Day. Suddenly, all her anger and frustration drained away as it hit her that she didn’t need a special gesture on one day of the year. And she didn’t need to hear those three words, either. All she needed was the knowledge that Jonathan loved her enough to show it. Nothing he said could compete with that.
‘It’s okay,’ she said, resting her head on Jonathan’s solid chest. The thud of his heart filled her ear, and she smiled. ‘Actually, it’s more than okay. It’s perfect.’
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