He must have known from the start that I am ill at ease. This confuses him, because the girl he’s used to seeing is confident, almost arrogantly so. But I’m miserable and I’m not hiding it.
“Is it that bad, hanging out with me again?” He sounds hurt, but I don’t even care.
“I want to go back to the office,” I say petulantly, tugging on the drawstrings of my hooded sweatshirt. He instinctively reaches over and adjusts them. His hand accidentally brushes across my neck, and he pulls away as if my skin has burnt him.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, settling back on the driver’s seat and sighing. “I’ll bring you back after we eat, all right?”
I nod, and he relaxes.
It’s a very silent meal. He’s constantly pushing up his glasses and trying to hide the fact that his hands are slightly trembling. I’m restless and ready to leave.
I’m supposed to be at my desk, I think. I’m supposed to be drawing and writing a story and blogging about Christmas.
But here I am, stuck with Christian.
No, not that Christian. This is the nice one. The second Christian.
I reflect on the fact that they all look so much alike. But then, I’d made sure of that – I made Lucien my template, so the guys I used to date were tall and all had black hair and grey-blue eyes and ghost pale skin.
He sips his tea.
“Have you thought of…of my proposal?”
His voice pipes up suddenly and I look at him obliquely, barely raising my head from its perch on my arm. I haven’t touched my food and my shepherd’s pie is already cold.
My anxiety vanishes, replaced by the familiar hollow nothingness that is my default emotional state. He must have noticed the change, because he ducks his head, avoiding my eyes.
“I am not going with you to Hong Kong, Christian,” I tell him witheringly.
“Singapore, then?” His voice sounds small. I bet he feels small.
I prop myself up with my elbow and glare at him. “Seriously?”
“It’s just business.” He gulps his drink down nervously, and I watch him predatorily, poising for the next strike. He knows this is a lie and finally retreats. “But all right. I’ll stop.”
I sigh, too.
“I still want to be with you,” he whispers.
I squeeze his hand and shake my head. “But I don’t,” I say as gently as I can. “You won’t be happy with me.”
He looks like he’s about to say something, so I glance at my wristwatch. “It’s time for me to go back,” I tell him.
My watch has the wrong time – it’s set to Reykjavik’s time – but he doesn’t need to know that.
In the car, he leans over me and kisses me swiftly, and I’m too surprised to react. I pull away, and he leans his forehead on my shoulder. I feel a moment of sorrow and pity, so I clasp my arms around him and murmur soothing words in his ear.
“I wish I hated you,” he says. “But I can’t. I can’t.”
I don’t say anything in response.
But I wish he did, too.