He is waiting up for her as she stumbles into the shop, laughing that awful laugh she has around other men. The one that makes her sound downright scary.

She is wearing heels, which accounts for the stumbling, and a dress he'd like to claim he'd never seen before. Actually, he'd like to claim that about the heels too.

It's that dress she wore a few New Year's ago, and those shoes she left behind after telling him it wouldn't happen again.

They were red, and he remembered thinking she should have green eyes to set it off, and brown hair, long, simply because it would go.

Then he had shaken his head and somewhere through the alcohol he had seen how beautiful she was.

He'd been seeing glimpses of this again lately, how lovely she had been to him that night. Not just Fran, his oldest friend. Fran, a woman who was beautiful.

Now it hits him full force as he sees her once again in that dress, and he goes against her orders and remembers, just for a moment.

And then he feels angry, simply at himself, for realising this at such an inconvenient time, as she comes back from the one date in God knows how long that appears to have gone well enough to have a second.

And she comes and sits near him and tells him all about Brian or Ryan or whoever it was, and all he can think about is how much he would like to make this man disappear, or how much he would like to take his place.

A yellow car, one of those funny round VW ones, cruises past the shop, window rolled down so you can see the girl (obviously in her late teens) who is sat in the driver's seat, tapping the steering wheel to the beat of The Killers track blasting from the stereo as she sings along.

The word "jealousy" floats from the car, and Bernard stops trying to work out where he's seen this girl before and realises it fits him.

He's jealous.

Jealous of Fran's new boyfriend.

But why? It's not going to work out, no offence meant to Fran, and if it did she'd probably be miserable.

He wants to be the one who made Fran happy, he decides. It was all very well for the heroes of books to go about letting heroines do "whatever made them happy", but this was not a book, and he would really like to be the one to make her smile, not just the one watching from a distance.

He looks back at her, so animated and excited, and he smiles.

It isn't a nice smile. It isn't a cheerful smile. It it more like the sly smile of the villain when he knows how to get what he wants.


By contrast, Fran never thought of Bernard as a villain. However, she certainly never romanticised him into a brooding poet or anything like that.

She thought of him as the failed hero, who had already given up on winning, but who would keep trying: trying to meet the right woman; trying to break the cycle they were in; trying, in short, to become someone else.

Then she realises that also rather fit her, and that she might as well throw away Ryan's number, because it isn't going to work out anyway.

So she stops thinking, and starts searching for the piece of paper that it's written on.


Bernard watches Fran tear a little scrap of paper into tiny shreds with a small amount of amusement.

"Weren't you just going on about him?"

"Yes," she scowls, "but it's never going to work out." Because of him, the idiot.

"It's all your fault, anyway," she mutters to herself. Unfortunately, Bernard appears to have developed super-hearing lately, because he catches that.

He's sat there smirking at her now, the arrogant idiot, because he thinks she means that, and of course she doesn't mean that, she could never mean that...

See, now he's got her all flustered. It's his fault.

"How could I," he begins, in a slightly humouring tone, (he thinks he knows so much), "ever prevent you from going out on a second date with such a charming man, who seems to have made such a wonderful first impression?"

And even though he's smirking, she thinks there's a little flash of hope lingering in his eyes. She doesn't want to extinguish it entirely, but it's not what she means, well, mostly not, not to say that it is, even a little bit...

Flustered again. She was flustered on New Year's too, dammit.

"You," she accuses, "get me stuck in this cycle. I can't be normal, because I associate with you on a regular basis. I can't stay sober because you offer me wine. I can't quit smoking, you have cigarettes. I can't stop hanging around your filthy hovel talking to you, because of you!"

He's fairly sure the wine and cigarettes are to do with self-control, but he won't say. That's self-control, which all in all probably makes irony, but he's too tired to tell.

He's also quite pissed off that she's insulted the bookstore, but he's vaguely aware that she basically said she can't quit him either, which he's decided means a lot to him.

He wonders if it means a lot to her too.

"Maybe," croons the radio suddenly, which is surprising – it hasn't worked since that glass of white wine got dumped on it, "maybe it's fate. Maybe, maybe it's too late. Maybe, maybe, me and you. Maybe, maybe you want it too."

Bernard hits the radio, and it shuts up again. The lyrics might be slightly fitting, but it's a terribly written song by some overly sweet-voiced woman. He prefers static for this kind of conversation.

"It's late," is the next thing she says. "I have to go home."

And he lets her go. Because when she gets home, she won't be able to sleep, and she'll remember what happened last time she wore that dress, and she'll think about it, and all the signs coming up lately, and then she'll dream about him.

He smiles his villain's smile as she closes the shop door. He's the last person you'd call an optimist, but he knows it's going to happen.