By S. Faith, © 2010
Rating: T+ / PG-13
Summary: What if Bridget had reluctantly agreed to be set up on a date by her mother, after all?
Disclaimer: It isn't mine. No, really.
Notes: Movie universe. I know, I keep coming back to this 'first date' business, but it's like Maggie said: it's the same reason why Bridget rewinds and re-watches the wet white shirt scene.
Reuploaded 19 Apr due to stripped-out special characters. Replaced with HTML code so that the és, the ïs and the ûs would display properly.
It was a sad, sad world that it was easier in the long run to go along with her mother's crazy schemes than refuse, even when those crazy schemes involved meeting strange men who wear weird clothing to holiday parties. Then again, she thought, I wore weird clothing to a holiday party, too. Maybe it was meant to be.
She shook her head as if to shake the sense back in.
Her mother would not take no for an answer and would badger her on every phone call, which for her mother was daily. Finally worn down, she agreed, figuring that at the very least she might get a nice posh meal out of it.
He called her to arrange it. She didn't know it was her prospective date at first. In fact, she was half-convinced it was a telephone solicitation and nearly hung up on him.
"Hello, Bridget Jones speaking," she said.
There was a short silence. "Hello?" came the uncertain question in a man's voice she did not recognise.
"Yes," she said, irritation in her voice.
"I'm sorry. Have I rung at a bad time?"
She sighed heavily. "What are you trying to sell me?"
Another silence. "Excuse me?"
"Sorry, mister. It's always a bad time for telesales," she grumbled.
"I think you have the wrong idea," he said, perfectly seriously. "My name is Mark Darcy. I was calling to see when we might meet. Friday night?"
"Oh," she said. "Sorry. Friday night's good."
"Yes, that's fine."
"What's your address?"
"Why?" she asked suspiciously.
He did not answer right away. "So I might pick you up."
Given that she did not know if he was secretly some sort of madman, she did not want him to know where she lived. "I'd prefer we just meet there."
"Wherever you want to go."
"Oh," he said. "Sure."
She waited for him to say something more—such as the name of the actual restaurant—but no information seemed to be forthcoming. "Mark?" she asked.
"Where might that be?"
"Oh, sorry, was waiting for you to speak. The Ivy. If I can't confirm reservations for seven, I'll let you know."
"Terrific," she said, her voice betraying her lack of enthusiasm a little; did he really think being a show-off would impress her? "I'll see you then."
"Looking forward to it. Goodbye."
As a follow-up call never manifested in the days to follow, she operated under the assumption that the date was on as arranged, Friday, seven p.m., The Ivy. Ordinarily she would have stressed herself out about what to wear and about performing other date preparation rituals, and though there were certain standards to meet for dates in general and The Ivy in specific, she felt no special pressure to go too far out of her way to impress.
In fact, she rather wanted the opposite, to rebel in her own way.
The outfit she ended up choosing was sedate and rather plain: black trousers cut with straight legs paired with a dark blue silk blouse, one that buttoned up to her collarbone. No flash of skin for a potential maniac, she mused to herself. She did nothing special to her hair—just brushed out and loose—nor did she do anything particularly radical with her makeup. The entryphone buzzed to indicate her minicab had arrived, so she slipped into black mules with very low heels, donned her coat, and left her flat.
She was so deep in her own thoughts about the night (which was odd, because it was not as if she had been particularly expecting much of the date) that she hardly remembered the ride at all. She paid the fare, then went into the restaurant and checked her coat.
Before she had a chance to speak with the maitre d', she noticed that Mark was waiting for her at the bar, or at least she thought it was him. She only had a view from the back, and given that she'd had opportunity to peruse that aspect before, she was pretty confident of his identity.
She approached him, then reached out to tap his shoulder. He turned around quickly. "Hello," she said. "Sorry I'm late."
He offered a stiff smile. "Hello." He glanced down to his watch. "Actually, you aren't."
"It isn't seven yet."
She was so used to being perennially late to everything that she'd just assumed she was. "Oh. Sorry."
From the bar he took his drink, a glass of red wine, and turned to face her. The intense, too-serious way he was regarding her was a little disconcerting. She wondered if he ever smiled; such a constant dour expression was very unattractive. She had to admit, though, that the absence of a horrible jumper, reindeer or otherwise, was a marked improvement over New Year's Day. He wore a dress shirt and tie, and had on a very crisp, very expensive-looking suit in dark navy with barely discernible pinstripes.
"Our table is probably ready," he said after scrutinising her in this way for many moments.
"Yes," she said, after what probably seemed a stupid pause.
"Unless you wanted a drink first?" he asked.
"Wine with dinner will be fine, but thank you," she said politely. The one thing she did not want to encourage was stretching this out any longer than necessary.
Being that it was Friday night and being that the restaurant was very busy, the maitre d', while courteous and polite, with very little conversation seated them at a table by the diamond-patterned windows; the frosted white and coloured panes glowed with illumination from lights outside. She smiled politely as they took their seats and their server arrived to take their drink order.
"A glass of wine for the lady," Mark said.
She blinked, momentarily annoyed at his presumptuousness. "Chardonnay, please."
"Yes, sir, miss," said the server, who then left them to peruse the menu.
She wondered if she looked as indecisive as she felt, because Mark said, "Everything I've ever tried here has been exceptional, but I must claim a special partiality to the grilled lobster."
If he was trying to impress her with his fondness for one of the most expensive dishes on the menu, it wasn't working. "Hm," she said noncommittally.
In fact, she was tempted, very tempted, to get something as non-posh as possible. Her first impulse was to order the Shepherd's Pie, but she wasn't sure she had the appetite for it. She narrowed it down to the sausages and mashed potatoes, or the hamburger. Maybe the chicken with plantain crisps…
"You work in publishing," said Mark suddenly, surprising her out of her menu-inspired reverie. It wasn't a question so much as a barked command, brisk and almost condescending.
"Yes," she said. "I work in publicity."
"Oh," he said. "I would have thought—well. I suppose that's interesting."
She wondered what he 'would have thought': mail room slave? Sandwich girl? She frowned. "It is in its own way," she replied, "but as I have a degree in English, it's not exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life."
He blinked rapidly; did it surprise him that she might have gone to uni? "No," he said. "I imagine not." He cleared his throat. "So… at which publishing house to you work?"
She watched his features quickly move into a grimace of disgust before he could suppress it. Did he really have to reiterate that her choice in employment was something he found beneath him? "Ah," he said, his expression more neutral again. "I've heard a lot about an upcoming release of theirs, Kafka's Motorbike. That was probably your doing."
She pulled her lips into a tight line. "I guess I ought to ask about your work," she said.
His brows drew together. "'Ought to'?"
She smiled, feeling a bit sympathetic. Poor, naïve fellow. "I know you're only here to make your mum happy," she said in a confidential tone, "just as I'm here for mine. We make a little small talk, we have a nice supper, and that's that. Never have to see me again."
He did not reply, simply looked down to his glass of wine. She noted no vehement denials were offered.
"Pardon me." It was their server again, a young man who couldn't have been older than twenty-five, and who had appeared out of nowhere bearing het wine. "Have you decided yet?"
It occurred to Bridget only then that they had not actually ordered, which was only going to make the night that much longer still. She had not even made a decision, either. She thought of all of the things her mother had said about him making oodles of money per hour, and that helped her decide. Why not spend £14 on a bloody hamburger, then?
"Yes," she said abruptly. "I'll have the Ivy burger."
Mark looked up, a momentary flash of surprise on his face before he spoke to the server. Ha!
"I'll have the grilled lobster," Mark said. "Thank you."
With a curt nod, the young man turned and departed. She felt like he'd ordered it to stand his hoity-toity ground. She was all out of ideas for small talk; he clearly wasn't very good at thinking it up on his own; next he'd probably be asking about whether or not she'd read any good books lately, or, God forbid, details on that awful Kafka's Motorbike book. Before there was an opportunity to resume chit-chat, however, the maitre d' himself came to the table.
"I apologise we did not get to properly speak before, Mr Darcy. I just wanted to stop by, make sure there wasn't anything else you needed."
"I think we're fine, but your concern is appreciated," said Mark.
The maitre d' smiled, and it seemed quite genuine, as did his tone when he spoke. "It is good to see you again, sir. It's been a while."
"It's good to see you again too." Mark looked to Bridget. "Pierre, allow me to introduce you to Miss Bridget Jones."
"Miss, delighted to meet you." He turned to Mark again, that same expression of genuine pleasure on his face. "I brought your order to Chef myself. You're making that dish a bit of a habit, Mr Darcy."
Mark actually chuckled. The smile was not at all unattractive, she realised. "I can't help sticking with what I like," Mark said.
"Well," said Pierre, looking from Mark to Bridget and back Mark again. "Do let Ian or me know if there's anything else you need."
Bridget had mixed feelings about the entire interaction. She had felt completely invisible, and Mark was clearly someone to whom the entire wait staff deferred like some kind of nobility. But they also knew him and liked him, apparently quite well, and Mark's reaction to the joking was not what she'd been expecting at all.
"I'm a barrister," he said, interrupting her thoughts.
"You mentioned feeling like you ought to ask me about my work," he said. "I thought I would oblige you." No trace of that smile remained. Pity, she thought.
"Oh, yes, actually I knew that," she said. "Human rights. My mum told me that. So what exactly does that entail, anyhow?"
"Well, the short version is that I work to protect and fight for the basic human rights afforded by law."
She had a sudden, probably irrational vision of Mark standing toe to toe with foreign dictators to protect the downtrodden. "I bet that pisses a lot people off," she blurted.
She saw the smile struggling to the surface, but it never quite made it. "The majority of the cases are asylum, fairly low profile… but very, very important work, nonetheless." He sat up a little straighter in his chair, then leaned forward and lowered his voice so that it wouldn't carry, not that it would have carried far with the density of nearby voices. "I have one right now, actually, that I expect to culminate before the end of the year, one that's attracting more media attention than I would prefer. I can't really speak of details, obviously, but he's a Kurdish freedom fighter who made great strides against his government before seeking asylum here. I've been working to keep him here in the UK with his wife. If I lose this case, he returns to a certain death sentence, so I… I just cannot lose."
She didn't say anything. She didn't know what to say, and was so stunned by the transformation from cold fish, evidenced by the change in his demeanour, the passion in his voice and the light in his eyes as he spoke of his case, that even if she'd found a suitable reply, she was sure it wouldn't have come forth, anyway. "Oh," she said at last; it was not the most eloquent response, but it was something. "Does it look good for him? Do you think he'll be able to stay here?"
"I'm confident the case is solid," he said, "but there's no accounting for interpretation of statute or legal precedent. I take nothing for granted and do not assume that I will win a case. Overconfidence is almost worse than a lack of preparation. But, obviously… I have high hopes, and they're counting on me."
"Poor fellow—to have to fight like that for your homeland then to never be able to return… that's just terrible." A sudden thought came to her. "Is he in any danger here?"
"In the five years he's been here, he has been able to live in relative peace and quiet. Not a single threat."
"Oh, I'm very glad to hear that. And his wife? It must be hard for her too."
He nodded. "She's a very strong woman, though. I suspect anyone who did try to get to him would have to get through her, first."
"What about you? Have you ever gotten a death threat?"
"No," he said with another smile. "I'm not that important."
She found herself smiling as well. "Sounds really interesting," she said, then quickly added, "Oh, that sounded really trite, but I mean it. It's so important to have someone fighting the tough battles for the freedoms we tend to take for granted here in our cushy first-world lives." She raised her glass of wine and swirled it around, smirking. "Makes pushing a glut of books seem absolutely useless in comparison." She took a sip, heard him chuckle very quietly.
"Well, now, I wouldn't say useless," he said. "We need those books to remind ourselves of the perks of our cushy first-world lives."
She looked at him again, saw his expression had remained anything but dour. He wasn't grinning, but the edges of his mouth were turned up with the barest hint of a smile; his eyes were crinkled slightly. It astonished her how different he looked.
"What do you see yourself doing?" he went on to ask. "As you don't want to be in publicity for the rest of your life."
She thought about it and felt her face flush. "This is going to sound absurd," she said, "but I'm not sure I've really decided yet."
He looked at her, not saying a word, and did so for so long that she decided he might actually get up and abandon her there. As Ian reappeared to ask about more wine, it seemed clear that he was perhaps paralysed with horror, because he did not react immediately to the server's prompt.
"Sir?" asked Ian.
Mark looked to Ian. "Sorry. Yes. Or rather, perhaps something that will complement the lobster."
"The lady's Chardonnay would work very well," Ian said.
"A bottle for us, then," he said. "Thank you."
"Of course." Ian swept away Mark's glass and walked away.
She was again perplexed by the scene that had transpired; Mark was not apparently ready to bolt, so what did that fugue mean? "It's a very good Chardonnay," she offered, just to fill the silence.
"I don't doubt it," he said. "They don't serve bad wine here." At least the smile had returned, at least a little. "There are a handful of memories from my youth involving you, and that's all," he said, surprising her. "Did you live in Grafton Underwood all your life?"
"Uh, no," she said. "We lived closer to London. We didn't move to Grafton Underwood permanently until I was nearly a teen."
"That explains it," he said. "I was probably already gone to school, and then off to Cambridge, and then… off to London." He regarded her again thoughtfully. "It's a pity," he said. "Grafton Underwood would have been a sight more interesting with you around."
His statement surprised her too, but she took it in stride. "Perhaps, though it wouldn't take much to make that town more interesting. There's a reason I went from uni straight to London."
She saw the corners of his eyes crease with his slight smile again.
Ian reappeared with another glass and the bottle of wine, which had already been opened and placed into a bucket of ice to keep chilled. After depositing both onto the table, without asking—without needing to ask—he lifted the bottle and poured another glass for her, then for Mark. "I'll be right back with dinner."
"Thank you." As Ian departed again, Mark lifted the glass and took a sip. "Oh, that is exquisite," he said.
She nodded. It would be hard to return to the usual Saturday night swill.
As promised, Ian returned with their plates, setting Bridget's down first. It was her burger complete with dill pickle, and it looked delicious. She had failed to take into consideration, however, how she would eat it without making a complete mess.
Then Ian lowered Mark's plate down. She gasped. She had been anticipating a lobster tail, not the entire lobster, and certainly not the lobster's little beady eyes pointed straight at her.
"What is it?" Mark asked, concerned.
"It's staring at me."
He chuckled, then turned the plate ninety degrees. "Sorry."
"Is there anything more I can bring you?"
"I think we're fine," said Mark.
"Yes," she said, though in actuality would have liked a little hood for the lobster's head.
"Enjoy your meal," said Ian, before departing.
They had at least cut the burger in half, which would certainly make eating it a bit easier. She picked up one half, then brought it to her mouth; it was delicious, perfectly cooked and slathered with their special club sauce. Like he'd done so a hundred times before—and judging from Pierre's comment, he might well have—Mark expertly broke open the carapace with the utensils provided and began to eat the tender meat inside, dipping it into the small container of melted butter. His meal had also come with a small bed of greens as well as chips. Odd that her burger did not come with chips, but his lobster did. They looked really good, too, as if made from hand-cut potatoes…
"I rarely eat them," he said, undoubtedly catching her covetous stare. "If you would like them, you're welcome to them."
Sheepishly she smiled, then reached to pluck one from his plate. They too were delicious. "Thanks."
She did not realise before the food came exactly how hungry she was. Methodically she made her way through the burger, another glass of wine (he poured them each some more) and most of the chips from Mark's plate; despite his proclamation, he ate a healthy portion of them too.
He dabbed his table napkin to his lips, indicating he had finished, as if the hollowed-out shell of his lobster wasn't indication enough. He drank from his wineglass again, then set it down. "Excellent, all around," he said. She had to agree. "How do you feel about dessert?"
Given her thoughts of earlier, of how she had not wanted to prolong the suffering of this arranged date, the fact that she was now considering dessert spoke volumes about how her opinion had reversed. "I might be inclined," she said, "provided they haul that carcass away sometime soon."
He laughed again, just as Ian made a very timely appearance and cleared the table. "Dessert and coffee for you tonight?"
"Black coffee, with the crème brûlée, thank you," said Mark.
Bridget could barely remember the dessert menu. "What have you got that's chocolate?"
"A chocolate tasting plate," he said, "and a baked chocolate pudding with mint chocolate chip ice cream."
The latter sounded much more satisfying, so she ordered that. "And coffee. Cream and sugar."
Without another word Ian departed.
Mark lifted and drank the last of his wine. Between the two of them, they had pretty much emptied the bottle, she more than he, to be perfectly honest. Perhaps that was why her tongue had loosened a little as the meal had progressed. It was a top-notch restaurant, and she had to admit she'd had a pretty nice time.
"May I ask a personal question?"
Her attention was brought back to Mark. "What?"
"Are you currently seeing someone?"
She blinked in confusion. "If I were seeing someone, why would I agree to have supper with you?"
"To please your mother," he said quickly. She mentally cringed. "I was just curious if you were seeing someone you didn't want her to know about."
She thought of Daniel and her unrequited crush on him. That did not count. "No," she said tentatively.
"You don't sound like you know for sure," he said, a slight smile playing on his lips.
"No," she said again, a little more strongly. "Thanks for rubbing it in."
"I meant to do no such thing," he said. "Bridget, despite what you clearly think, I didn't come tonight because my mother forced me to come. I was a bit nervous, I'll admit, but I came here quite willingly. I don't meet a lot of women outside of my professional circle, and I didn't exactly give you a chance on New Year's as I should have, even though in retrospect I realised you were trying to give me one." He at least looked apologetic. "I thought it only fair to try again."
She now felt an utter fool. He'd wanted to be there, and she'd all but admitted she had not. "I'm sorry," she said. "I've had a nice time, I really have. Much better than I'd expected."
"You hadn't expected much, had you?" he asked gently, cutting to the heart of the matter.
"No," she admitted, offering another crooked smile.
Ian quietly placed their coffee before them, then disappeared again.
"I've had a really nice time, too," he said, cradling the coffee cup in his hand, then looking to her.
Dessert was then delivered; she didn't think she would have had room for anything else, but from the first taste of the cake-like chocolate pudding and creamy, minty ice cream, she knew she would find a way to finish it off. He seemed to be enjoying his dessert as well, and just like during dinner, there was very little conversation.
When Ian returned to gather the dessert plates, Mark reached for his wallet and without a word slipped out a card for payment. Ian took it and nodded. "Be right back, sir."
She finished her coffee, and as she set the empty mug down she noticed he was looking at her once more. "I'm glad that I came," she said, and realised she meant it.
"I'm glad too," he said.
They went to retrieve their coats, and with that departed the restaurant side by side. "I'll be happy to walk you to your car," he said as he fixed his scarf around his neck.
She pushed her hands into her coat pockets. "I, uh, came by taxi."
He actually looked a little wounded. "I could have picked you up."
"I know, I'm sorry," she said.
"I'd be happy to take you home."
The temperature had really dropped, and she did not fancy waiting around for a minicab; she was also pretty convinced by this point that Mark was not a maniac. "That'd be great. Thank you."
His car was quite nice and very comfortable, and when she told him where she lived, he seemed surprised. "My mother wasn't kidding," he said. "You really do live fairly close to me."
"Where do you live?"
"Holland Park area."
It wasn't exactly around the corner, but in relative distances around London, it wasn't far… and it was very upscale. "Oh."
As he navigated the streets towards her building, he did not say much, and when he did speak again, it was an apparent non sequitur. "That makes things a little easier, from my point of view."
"That you aren't seeing anyone," he replied. "Because I'd like to see you again."
She was quite surprised. "You would?" she asked.
He chuckled. "Why does that sound so incredible to you?"
"Well," she said, "I haven't been on my best behaviour. I'm dressed like a nun on her day off. I ordered the most ordinary but expensive thing on the menu. I admitted I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I was rude to you and told you as much that I'd agreed to come against my will, and since I doubted we'd ever see each other again except for maybe next New Year's, I didn't think of it as a real date, so I pretty much acted… well, like myself." She sighed. "And now I'm doing it again."
He chuckled once more. "You're not insulting me. Do you have any idea how refreshing it is to take someone to dinner who is just being herself?"
She felt her jaw drop. At that he burst out with another laugh.
"But a £14 burger is ludicrous—and you looked shocked."
"I was just surprised that you didn't order the most expensive thing on the menu, like most of the women I ask out."
She blinked. "And you think what I do is stupid."
"What? Why would you think I'd think that?"
"I told you where I worked and you looked appalled, as if it were on par with counting out paperclips."
He smiled, laughing a little, before turning serious. "It's not the business of publishing itself," he said. "A… former friend works there."
"Oh," she said, feeling very low, feeling her skin flood with the heat of embarrassment. "But I'm only in publicity."
"I was just surprised you weren't running the place."
She looked down to where her hands sat folded on her lap, then back at him. She had interpreted all of his reactions in the worst possible light.
"And you don't look like a nun on her day off," he continued. He glanced to the side to look at her, a smile in his eye. "That dress on New Year's, maybe… but not tonight."
She didn't quite know what to say to that, which was just as well, since they had gotten to her building. "It's right there," she said, rather stating the obvious.
He pulled alongside the kerb, turned to face her. "So."
She always hated this part of a first date, that tentative series of steps trying to get the lay of the land: What does he really think of me, and what does he expect? Does he just want a kiss goodnight? Does he even want a kiss goodnight? Do I ask him up to be polite? Do I ask him up because I want him to come up?
"So," she replied. It was not particularly original.
"What do you think?"
"About the possibility of doing this again."
She chuckled, glancing down. Silly presumption on her part regarding goodnight kisses or inviting him up. "I think I might be inclined," she said, echoing her own words of earlier, meeting his eyes. How much things had changed since his first phone call to arrange the date.
He smiled, possibly the fullest smile she'd seen all night; the divots in his cheeks, highlighted by the headlamps of passing vehicles, were rather striking. "Great. How about tomorrow night?"
The question took her slightly aback. She was expecting the standard 'I'll call you sometime,' not a request for a second date the next evening. "Oh," she said rather inanely, trying to think whether or not she had previous plans. "Um, sure."
From the slight broadening of his smile, it was obvious he was pleased. "I'll pick you up at six."
"Perfect," she said.
He didn't say anything more for many moments; she was not even sure he was blinking. "Come on," he said at last. "I'll walk you to your door."
She nodded, relieved in a sense to know his intentions.
He exited the car, bid her to wait to allow him to open the door, which he did then helped her rise to stand on the sidewalk. Guiding her by her arm, they crossed the street to the stoop in front of her building. She turned to look at him.
This was the part for her that had the tendency to get awkward. She looked up into his eyes, smiling a bit nervously. "Well, thank you again."
"It was my pleasure."
With the difference in their heights, she figured she would at least have fair warning should he want to kiss her good night. She was wrong. He bent down so quickly to press his lips to hers for a chaste kiss, cradling her cheek in his hand, that she gasped a little in surprise. As fast as he'd done so, he pulled away.
"Goodnight," he said, his voice a raspy whisper.
She merely stood there with her lips parted, her eyes wide, shocked by that undeniable spark of attraction that the kiss had jolted through her. She nodded, then spoke at last. "Goodnight."
He did not move away; she did not dig for her key. It was as if they were frozen there in each other's gaze. It took obvious effort on his part to turn then retreat. He did not look back until he got to the car. Hurriedly, she took out her key and twisted open the knob, then turned to wave. Smiling, he waved too, then got into his car.
She stepped into the building, then, after the door closed, she leaned against it, exhaling. What on earth had just happened there? She knew, though, and it sent her mind off on tangents she never would have expected it to take. What kind of kisser Mark Darcy, wearer of reindeer jumpers, might have been was just the start of those tangents.
As she got ready for bed, as she undressed, combed her hair and brushed her teeth, she could not stop thinking about the night, the complete one-hundred and eighty degree turnaround she'd had: horrible semi-blind date to attractive man with a nice personality who liked her even if she was graceless, tactless, and classless at times.
She smirked. And quite possibly an excellent snogger.
Bridget decided she would really splash out for Saturday's date, wear her prettiest dress—which also happened to be one of her sexiest; short, black and with a low vee neck—and sheer black hosiery with heels. She decided to try her hair up and off her neck in a twist, which came out as perfectly as it had the night her friend Jude had done it for her.
The buzzer rang promptly at six; she was, of course, not quite ready, and in a panic ran to the entryphone.
"Hello," said Mark.
"Hi. Come on up, top flat," she said, pushing the lock release. She went back into the bathroom to check her hair and makeup one last time, grasped her clutch purse and checked she had the necessities in there (lipstick, hairbrush, driving licence, a £20 note and so on). She heard a knock at the door so she dashed back to the living room, pausing momentarily to make sure her hair hadn't gone mad in those seconds since she'd left the loo. She then went down the stairs to her flat's door and pulled it open.
"Hi," she said again.
He did not reply, just looked up to where she was standing on the bottom step. His face bore a rather stunned expression, one that pleased her greatly.
"I'll just get my shoes on. Come on in."
She could hear him climb the stairs behind her. She stepped into her shoes then turned for her coat… and turned directly into Mark. "Sorry," she said. "I was just going to… you know." She pointed towards her coat.
"Don't be," he said, his eyes searching her face. "You look beautiful."
He made no move to get out of her way; it seemed clear he had placed himself directly behind her with a purpose, particularly when he raised his hand and brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek. He then ducked his head and placed his lips on hers like he had the previous evening. However, he did not content himself with a quick peck this time. He wrapped his arms around her and before she could rationally think about it was parting her lips with his own. Whatever spark she had felt the night before was nothing compared to what she was feeling now; eagerly she returned the kiss, thrilled to discover he was, in fact, an excellent snogger.
She felt his hands moving down over her shoulder blades to the small of her back. He broke away suddenly, resting his cheek against her forehead; her head was swimming and she felt warm, in part due to his heavy wool coat, and in part due to her racing heart. "Sorry," he said.
"I couldn't get you out of my head last night," he murmured. "And then you open the door and look so bloody…. I'm sorry."
She pushed back far enough to look up into his eyes. Even with her wearing heels, he was so much taller than she was. She started to smirk as she spoke. "You call me beautiful, you kiss me spontaneously, you tell me you couldn't stop thinking about me… and you're apologising?"
He blinked rapidly, then smiled, then began to chuckle. "Point taken."
They went to dinner. She didn't remember the restaurant's name, only that they served Italian, that she got an excellent lasagne dish, they shared a bottle of wine again, and had cannoli and espresso for dessert. They had talked about all manner of subjects; even if they did not agree on them all, it was a good, spirited conversation. Upon leaving the restaurant, he reached and took her hand as they walked back to the car. She glanced up to him and smiled.
"Thanks for another lovely night," she said as he drove towards her building.
"It was my pleasure," he said, focused on navigating the car. She saw him smiling though.
He walked her to the door again, bent and kissed her in that same fleeting way. "Goodnight," he said quietly before stepping back again. With a smile, he turned and began to walk away.
"Mark?" she asked, her voice a bit squeaky.
"Yes?" he asked, turning towards her. He'd only gotten as far as the walk.
She suddenly had no idea what she would say. She could have asked him up, but they'd already had dessert, and asking him up might have seemed an obvious ploy to continue with the snogging, particularly when he had already indicated his desire to leave. She could have asked him out for the next day, but it was January, so picnics in the park were right out, and the cinema was not exactly engaging when trying to spend time with someone.
"Would you like to come out with me tomorrow?" she asked suddenly.
He seemed a little taken aback, but he smiled. "What did you have in mind?"
"Mmm," she said. "Maybe lunch? A walk?"
"It's January," he said.
"I know," she said.
He seemed to think about it a moment. "Yes."
She smiled. "Great."
"I'll meet you here at ten," he said. With another smile and a lingering look, he departed for his car again.
She went up into her flat, pleased yet frustrated at the same time. He had obviously found her attractive, so why would he not want to come up? The more she thought about it, though, the more she realised it was because he was unlike her usual dates. He was a gentleman. He wanted more than just to get her into bed. She smiled at the thought, then frowned. Her bloody mother would never let her hear the end of it.
It was not her habit to set an alarm clock on a Saturday night, so when she heard a persistent pounding echoing through her flat on Sunday morning, it perplexed her until she looked at the clock.
It was ten past ten.
"Oh, damn," she said, throwing back her covers, heart in a sudden panic. She had been so preoccupied the night before that she'd completely forgotten to set the alarm. She dashed out her bedroom and ran for the door.
"Mark," she said as she threw it open, before giving any thought to how she looked, which, she realised, was probably like hell. "I'm sorry. I overslept."
He didn't reply, his expression neutral as he studied her; she wondered if he was angry, at least until he began to speak. "It's okay," he said; she could hear the amusement in his voice. "I can wait for you in the coffee shop 'round the corner."
"Give me a half-hour. I promise."
She made it from bedraggled to showered, dressed, dried and primped in about twenty-five minutes, which was an all-out record for her. The sun was shining, but she knew it was only the illusion of a warm day. At least if they did take a walk, it would be pleasant and crisp. She dressed in coat, hat, scarf and gloves.
He had taken a table in the coffee shop right next to the window, so she tapped to catch his attention and waved before heading in. She took the seat across from him. A cup of coffee awaited her, along with cream and sugar with which to doctor it.
"Should still be piping hot," he said. "The waitress only just brought it."
"Thank you so much," she said, pouring in some cream, plopping in three sugar cubes, stirring and taking a long sip.
"What do you want to do?" he asked.
She looked up from her coffee and up to him. She had not really given it much thought, and pulled her lower lip between her teeth. "We could… I don't know," she admitted at last.
He chuckled, sipping his own coffee. "We could have breakfast here, then figure it out from there."
She smiled. It was a bit more spontaneous than dates one and two, and she liked it. "Okay."
They each got a pastry—he, a fruit-filled turnover; she, a chocolate croissant—and each had another cup of coffee. As she was taking a sip she felt the pads of his fingers on the back of her free hand; she looked to him then took the proffered hand in her own. He smiled tenderly, his eyes not leaving hers.
"I have an idea," he said.
"Oh?" she asked.
"Mm-hm," he said, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. He then brought her hand to his lips to kiss the skin he had just been caressing. Her heart started to pound in her chest. "Let's leave."
"Okay," she agreed in a whisper.
He paid for their food, then took her hand as they walked in the direction of her building. She could only think about what a mess her flat was, her bedroom practically natural disaster levels. To her astonishment, though, he led them to his car. She drew her brows together. "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
He was heading north towards the river, and found a place to park the car near the new Globe Theatre. They began to walk hand in hand toward the water, casually strolling through the lovely waterside park. The air was a bit chilly, but with the sun shining as it was she did not feel cold. They came to pause at the railing over looking the Thames. She put her gloved hands on the bar, then turned to look up at him with a smile. "This is nice," she said. "It's a beautiful day."
"It is," he said. "Even if your cheeks are a little pink."
She laughed lightly, looking out across the water again. He put his arm around her shoulders and leaned into her; she felt his cheek against her hair. "I very much enjoy spending time with you, Bridget," he said quietly. "I'm glad I encouraged my mother to get your mother to get you to agree to a date."
She did not know quite what to say. She liked that it was not just something he agreed to, but was in fact his own idea, and she was not sure she would have received a direct request for a date at all well. Ultimately, she smiled. She enjoyed spending time with him as well; he was interesting, intelligent, respectful, handsome, courteous… and a pretty nice kisser in her limited experience with kissing him. "I like you, too," she said at last.
He chuckled, squeezing his fingers momentarily against her upper arm, tightening the embrace. "We could have a tour of the theatre; we could walk across the Millennium Bridge; we could go to the Tate," he said. "And we have our choice for lunch venues when the time comes."
"Hmm," she said. She reached around him to put her own arm about his waist, pulling him closer. "That all sounds marvellous," she said. "The bridge. Come on."
With their hands clasped again, they began to slowly walk towards and then onto the Millennium Bridge. The vista from the midpoint was breathtaking, and she released his hand to go to the railing and look out over the water.
To her surprise, he came to stand behind her, his hands brushing down over her upper arms. She could feel his warm breath in her hair as he presumably looked out over her head to the view beyond. "Are you cold?" he asked.
She was shivering a little; the wind on the bridge was icier than on land. She managed, "Yes, a bit."
He enfolded her with his arms, held her close. "Better?"
"Mm-hm," she said, tilting her head to the side and into his shoulder; the warm wool of his coat was not what diffused the chill, though. She felt him place a delicate kiss on the tip of her ear.
She didn't consciously decide to spin around into his arms, certainly did not consciously decide to assault him with a kiss. It just happened that she did, and her mouth took his with a passion as yet unseen between them. He held her close as he kissed her in return, the railing against her upper back, his arms snug around her waist.
"I have a better idea," she gasped, breaking away.
He kissed her jaw, her earlobe, her throat, despite throngs of other people passing by within feet of them. "I'm listening," he whispered.
"Let's warm up back in my flat."
He did not reply at first, just reared back to meet her eyes as his hands slid down over her backside and back up again. "There's something to be said for spontaneity," he said at last.
The drive back to her street seemed to take forever, as did the walk up to her flat. As she closed the flat door, as he took her in his arms and kissed her without restraint, time veritably stood still.
She had been wrong about him. He wasn't just good at kissing. As a result, lunch plans changed radically to pizza delivery.
She had, however, been right about two things:
Her mother, who was insufferably smug about the success of the setup.
Those earliest indications that things were 'meant to be' despite her scoffing… for which she herself was insufferably smug. Thank God, she thought, for weird holiday clothes.