Watermelon Page 3

I maintained that we fell in love immediately.

He maintained nothing of the sort and said that I was a romantic fool. He claimed it took at least thirty seconds longer for him to fall in love with me.

Historians will argue.

First of all he had to establish that I had read the book in question also. Because he thought that I must be some kind of not-so-bright model or singer if I was working there as a waitress. You know, in the same way that I had written him off as some kind of subhuman clerk. Served me right.

"Have you read it?" he asked, obviously surprised, the tone of his voice actually implying "Can you read at all?"

"Yes, I've read all his books," I told him.

"Is that right?" he said thoughtfully as he leaned back in his chair, looking up at me with interest. A lock of his black silky hair had fallen across his forehead.

"Yes," I managed to reply, feeling slightly nauseous with lust.

"The car chases are good, aren't they?" he said.

Now, I should tell you here that there were no car chases in any of the books we were talking about. They were serious, profound books about life and death and similar matters.

"Jesus!" I thought in alarm, "handsome, intelligent and funny. Am I ready for this?"

And then James smiled at me, a slow, sexy smile, a knowing kind of smile, totally at odds with the pinstriped suit he was wearing, and I swear to you, my entrails turned to warm ice cream. You know, kind of hot and cold and tingly and...well...like they were dissolving, or something.

And for years afterwards, long after the initial magic had worn off and most of our conversations were about insurance policies and dry rot, all I had to do was remember that smile and I felt as if I had just fallen in love all over again.

We exchanged some more words.

Just a few.

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But they were enough to let me know that he was nice and clever and funny.

He asked for my phone number.

It was a fireable offense to give a customer my phone number.

I gave him my phone number.

When he left the restaurant that first night, with his three cronies, a blur of briefcases and umbrellas and rolled-up copies of the Financial Times and somber-looking suits, he smiled good-bye at me, and (well, I say this with the benefit of hindsight; it's very easy to foretell the future when it's already happened, if you know what I mean) I knew I was looking at my destiny.

My future.

A few minutes later he was back.

"Sorry"--he grinned--"what's your name?"

As soon as the other waitresses found out that a suit had asked for my phone number and, worse again, that I had actually given it to him, I was treated like a pariah.

But I didn't care. Because I had really fallen for James.

For all my talk of independence, I was actually a very romantic person at heart. And for all my talk of rebellion, I was as middle-class as you could get.

From the first time we went out together, it was wonderful. So romantic, so beautiful.

And I'm sorry to do this to you but I'm going to have to use a lot of clich�s here. I can see no other way around it.

I'm ashamed to tell you that I was walking on air. And I'm even sorrier to have to tell you that I felt like I'd known him all my life. And I'm going to compound things by telling you that I felt that no one understood me the way that he did. And as I've lost all credibility with you I might as well tell you that I didn't think it was possible to be that happy. But I won't push it by telling you that he made me feel safe, sexy, smart and sweet. (And sorry about this, but I really must tell you that I felt that I had met my missing other half and now I was whole, and I promise that I'll leave it at that.) (Except perhaps to mention that he was funny and great in bed. Now I mean it, that's all, positively all.)

When we first started going out together I was waitressing

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most nights, so I could only see him when I finished work. But he would wait up for me. And when I came around, exhausted, after hours of dishing up char-grilled whatever to the people of London (or the people of Pennsylvania or Hamburg, if I'm to be more accurate), he would--and I can't believe it to this day--he would bathe my aching feet and massage them with Body Shop peppermint foot lotion. Even though it was past twelve and he had to be at work helping people fiddle their tax returns, or whatever it is that accountants do, at eight the following morning, he still did it. Five nights a week. And he would bring me up-to-date on the soaps. Or go to the twenty-four-hour garage for me when I ran out of cigarettes. Or he would tell me funny little stories about his day at work. I know that it's hard to believe that any story about accounting could be funny, but he managed it.

And my job meant that we could never go out on Saturday nights. And he didn't complain.

Weird, huh?

Yes, I thought so too.

And he would help me count my tips. And give me great advice about what to invest them in. Government bonds and that kind of thing.

I usually bought shoes instead.

Shortly after this I had the good fortune to be fired from the waitressing job (a silly misunderstanding involving me, several bottles of imported lager, a "dinner-in-lap" scenario and a totally unreasonable customer who had absolutely no sense of humor; anyway, I believe his scars faded almost completely).

And managed to secure another position with more regular hours. So our romance proceeded on a more traditional timetable.

And after a while we moved in together. And after a bit longer we got married. And a couple of years later we decided to have a baby and my ovaries seemed to be game and his spermatozoa registered no complaint on that score and my womb had no objection so I got pregnant. And I gave birth to a baby girl.

Which is where you came in.

So I think we're pretty much up-to-date here.

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And if you were hoping for, or expecting, some kind of awful gory de- piction of childbirth, with talk of stirrups and forceps and moans of agony and vulgar comparisons with excreting a hundred-pound sack of potatoes, then I'm sorry to disappoint you.

(Well, all right then, just to humor you, take your worst period pain ever and multiply it by seven million and make it last for about twenty-four hours and then you have some idea.)

Yes, it was scary and messy and humiliating and quite alarmingly painful. It was also exciting and thrilling and wonderful. But the most important thing for me was that it was over. I could kind of remember the pain, but it no longer had the power to hurt me. But when James left me I realized I'd rather go through the pain of a hundred labors than go through the pain of losing him that I felt then.

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