Ingrid regularly popped into the cafe to see Emma and Theo, she had long since decided that as bizarre as it appeared the two of them had nothing going on. She wondered if either of them were gay, but Emma a Christian, and Theo a Jew – albeit lapsed – didn’t make that a likely prospect. Instead she contented themselves that they were obviously sufficiently screwed up with various love tangles of their own that they missed any prospect of romance. Had Ingrid been more astute in the art of match-making, she wondered if this pair would make a suitable experiment.
Instead as she waited for them to finish their shift she admired her handiwork and speculated that few of the customers probably realised that the artefacts which gazed down on them as they enjoyed their meatballs or falafel had formerly been real animals. Maybe it would put them off their food. She had never rejected a commission, her finances did not accord her that privilege, but when Emma had first accompanied her into the office, and arranged the meeting, and Ingrid had presented her ideas and they had become animated, even excited, and passionate about the artistic vision that she portrayed. The invitation to furnish all their restaurants with custom pieces was a dream come true, but it was strange. Why would a chic cafe chain wish to place dead animals of their walls. She did contemplate if it might be all an elaborate rouse, and she would be stung as they switch around one hundred and eighty degrees to make a very public protest against the practice of taxidermy with her as the scape goat. But that was rather unlikely, they had all been friendly, but not that too friendly type of friendly that might have aroused her suspicions.
Emma swung round the counter and suggested that they tagged along with Theo as he had some time to kill before his big date. Theo looked aghast as his private conversation with Emma was broadcast to the public and the person in front of him who he found it necessary to tolerate because Emma seemed to enjoy her presence.
Ingrid was patently aware of the latent hostility that Theo held towards her and the look that he cast as Emma spilled the details of his evening’s plans confirmed this beyond any doubt. Emma was irrepressible, she seemed to rise above all of the traumas that surrounded her but Ingrid was not convinced that everything was as fine as she made out. In particular she suspected that that Emma was less thrilled than she made out that Theo was off on a date. Maybe she just wanted to be right about their romantic prospects but it wasn’t just that, she looked at him a certain way, that one does not normally look towards those who are merely friends. Ingrid confessed in the conversation that was taking place in her head that she had never really had close male friends she didn’t fancy and forced herself to assess once again whether she liked Theo, or if she was just convincing herself that she was not interested to protect herself against the pain of his rejection. It could have been the same story as frequently before, she was either immediately enamoured by them or as long as she wasn’t disgusted at their presence found herself questioning why she was not interested, and whether her disinterest was a facade that she subconsciously erected to guard her emotions when actually she was very interested.
Emma dragged Ingrid out of her spell of introspection by trying to draw her into conversation with Theo, but she remained muted throughout the late afternoon as they wandered towards the West End. It was only after Theo had moved on, to go home before meeting Talitha that Ingrid began to open up.
The coffee cup scratched against the saucer as she contemplated the frequency that she was now inhabiting the role of relationship advisor. All rather ironic Emma thought given the paucity of her romantic liaisons, but that she kept quiet, far easier to preserve and aura of mystery, let people believe that she knew what she was saying when the words flowed freely from her mouth. Emma had not known what to advise Theo when he had presented his dilemma. She had heard from the pulpit time and time again that the guys were supposed to pursue the girls, but firstly, Theo was not Christian, and secondly, no one had been pursuing her so she was ready to scrap that rule anyway.
Not know anything about the other person was hard Emma thought, but allowed her to remain detached from the situation. It seemed a little weird that they had parted at the beginning of the year as vaguely friends but certainly nothing else, yet as she boarded the flight to come to the UK Theo was firmly contemplating asking her out, more working on the how than whether to. Emma for her part had advised caution, she didn’t want to be held responsible if it all went wrong. She suggested to Theo finding some convenient group settings where they could get to know one another without having a exclusive bond too soon, better to scope out the territory before raising the stakes she had told in one of their innumerable conversations as the custom at the cafe drew slack and interspersed the hissing of the coffee machine and the hammering of knives against boards in the kitchen behind.
Theo had not been impressed when Emma had suggested finding group settings to get to know Talitha, there were no such convenient settings, the only time they met without specific arrangements was at very occasional family celebrations. Which was perhaps why building a relationship when she was on the other side of the world was easy, she was there, unable to view the chaos of the world he inhabited. She did not have to know the dysfunctions of his family, or his failure to achieve very much of anything, all she saw was the him who he chose to show. But now there was no way to pursue things without being too obvious about it, and he rued the day he took on the extra project which meant he had to pull out of dinner. Theo had expected that to be the last that he heard of her, he fully anticipated that having experienced his fickle time management she would walk away. Instead she was the one who made contact with Theo, she was the one who had asked him out, suggested they meet tonight. He felt slighted by her initiative but compelled by her intent.
Emma turned back towards Ingrid and knew that she had to explain what was going on. It wasn’t fair on her to let her see half of a story and then deny access to the rest. Ingrid sat in rapt attention throughout Emma’s retelling. Only speaking at the end, and it was not to enquire any further into Theo’s romance, “So Emma, who do you like?”
This was not a question Emma was prepared to answer. As she thought about it, it was not a question that she was able to answer even if the propensity to do so suddenly hit her. Instead she found ways of suggesting no one in particular, without actually uttering the words. She waited until the silence had stilled beyond the expectation of an answer before she decided it was safe to change topic and move on.