Amber had been modestly picking at the bread basket between glasses of wine for an hour. She glanced at her phone again. It was getting embarrassing. She wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to occupy the table without actually ordering food. She called Leon again, it went straight to answer message.
‘Would madam care for more wine?’ The waiter said.
‘No, thank you.’ Amber sipped at the glass, and looked at her phone so she didn’t look at anybody else.
It had been Leon’s idea to get together again and have a meal, he had booked the restaurant. He had insisted they go ahead with it despite Amber’s reluctance. Even when they were together meals in public were often strained affairs towards the end. They had both endured habits in each other, which rendered the experience excruciating — Amber’s reluctance to curb his habit of picking at her plate without being asked, Leon’s acceptance of her indecisiveness when ordering. And yet despite these things they had enjoyed some pleasant meals together.
But one summer, after Leon had been made redundant, they had travelled the country in search of some of the best restaurants, had secured a table at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant. Although in hindsight it was pure Leon — tasteless and wholly pretentious. Amber’s preference had been Michel Roux. She favoured the Gallic traditions, the sheer romanticism of the French, the passion not the science.
Amber smoothed some butter onto the last, small piece of rye and nibbled.
And that time, on the way to Inverness, after a six hour drive, they had stopped off at the Lake District. They had visited a pub in Keswick off the back of a Trip Advisor review and regretted it. Not because of the food, which was a traditional English pub — drown anything in enough gravy and it becomes perfectly acceptable — affair, but because of what happened afterwards. Maybe it was the beer — one of those craft ales Leon had taken the habit of drinking — or the cheap Cabernet Sauvignon she had, but that was the line. Somewhere in the North of England, south of Hadrian’s Wall that their relationship passed the point of little return.
It was like somebody had promised a great feast. While they stood by the sidelines watching the table being laid, watching everything covered with the most sumptuous, tempting food and expensive table cloths, being offered little tasters and vol au vent for years along the way, only to be disappointed at the great reveal. That night, when the cloths were drawn back, they realised everything had become stale and rotten underneath. But still it had come as such a shock that things had deteriorated so much they spent the remainder of the holiday in silence over their Michelin starred plates. They communicated more with their phones that trip than with each other.
An alert came on Amber’s phone as she finished her drink: ‘Soz. Got delayed at work. Didn’t have signal. Gonna have to call it off.’