A Private Conversation
By S. Faith, © 2011
Rating: T / PG-13
Summary: Mark has a very important conversation just after his equally important confession.
Disclaimer: Still not mine, despite my best efforts, ha ha.
Notes: Thanks once again to the wonderful M.
It was a private conversation
No one heard her say
That man that she was looking for
Was only twenty streets away
—Lyle Lovett, "Private Conversation"
He took the stairs two at a time not because he was in any great rush to get back upstairs and to the overbearing woman who seemed to think she had him on a short lead, but rather, because his step felt lighter than it had in some time due to another woman, the one from whom he had just parted. After all, after the barrage of fire that had served as their opening salvos toward one another, it was nice—more than nice, delightful—to have a ceasefire, to have an understanding, to lay out on the line exactly how he felt.
The honesty at long last from her was what had spurred him to his own, and he was glad he had done it, though how had it been possible for this woman to be in his life so long and for him not to know her at all?
When he arrived back into the room where they'd all gathered with coffee and biscuits, he heard his name before he ever saw her. Natasha. "Mark. There you are."
Mark smiled stiffly. "I wasn't gone that long."
She narrowed her eyes, then said, "Tsk. It's unbecoming to go chasing after the single girl." Then she laughed gaily to try to mask the bitchiness of her words. "Come here and tell us your strategy for Thursday."
Thursday. It was a struggle to recall what was happening on Thursday, such that when it came to him he nearly started to laugh. "There's not really time left for strategy, Natasha," he said. "It's time for the decision."
Cosmo laughed and slapped his knee; for once Mark was grateful for his uncouthness. Jeremy chuckled too. Mark decided to ignore her and go get some coffee for himself.
"So, Mark," came a quiet voice from his side, "fancy a bit, do you?"
Mark looked to the side, saw that Cosmo had sidled up to him. He felt himself bristle without really knowing why. "What? What do you mean?"
"Bridge," said Cosmo with a wink. "I suspect she does not, in fact, have scales all over her body under her clothes." He waggled his brows at Mark.
Mark pursed his lips, which only made Cosmo burst out with a laugh again. "Right, right," he said, winking in an exaggerated fashion. "Cannot let The Girlfriend hear you say you do, though I can't blame you… the way that Daniel fellow always had his hands all over her—"
"She is not my girlfriend," Mark snapped, "and do not speak of Miss Jones in that way."
Cosmo held up his hands in mock surrender. "Down, boy," he said, still laughing.
It was Natasha.
"Yes?" he said sharply to her.
"Time to leave," she said. "Have a very early morning meeting."
He stared up at her. "I've only just got my coffee. I'm not ready to go yet."
She glared at him in icy silence for a moment before changing completely to nonchalance and light laughter. "Fine, if that's what you want, stay," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
With that she made a big show of leaving, air-kissing the others in turn as she made her way to the exit; Mark told himself again that he would have to have a conversation with Natasha regarding the state of their relationship, or rather, the lack thereof. He did not rise, he did not offer to get her coat for her. She seemed to be snubbing him in an attempt to punish him, which suited him just fine. Once Natasha had departed, he finally felt relaxed enough to lean back in the sofa seat and sip at his coffee.
"You really must have one of these with your coffee."
He looked up to see the evening's hostess and his partner Jeremy's wife, Magda, standing there with a tray. He had always been very fond of her; she must have had the patience of a saint to deal not only with their children but with Jeremy as well. He had also always considered her an attractive woman, though at that moment she seemed weary and a little eager for the night to be over.
"Certainly," he said. "What do you have there?"
She took a seat beside him. On the tray before him she saw a variety of biscuits, and he took three safe-looking shortbreads. "Those are very good, if I do say so myself," she said proudly. "My grandmother's recipe."
He took a bite; the shortbread seemed to melt on his tongue. He nodded and offered a smile to show his approval. "Very good," he added once he had washed it down with coffee.
It did not seem she had heard. She set the tray down on the coffee table, then leaned back, stretched her feet out in front of her, crossed them at the ankle and sighed heavily. "I may not want to get up again," she said. "It's always a bit weird and quite stressful to mix social spheres. My friends, Jeremy's…" She trailed off. "I always think it's going to be a disaster but it usually turns out just fine."
"Yes, it did," he said, bringing the shortbread up for another bite but hesitated. Bridget was Magda's friend. He could find out a little more about her. However, he did not know how best to approach it without eliciting a similar response to Cosmo's, because Magda would surely relay his interest to her husband, and then—
"I didn't realise we had a mutual friend."
This statement of Magda's proved a huge relief to a rapidly building agony about broaching the subject of Bridget. "We're more acquaintances than friends," said Mark, "though we did play together as children, so it's really just a matter of time."
"Matter of time?"
"Before we're better friends again," added Mark.
Magda smiled. "She is such a good person," Magda said. "Really a shame, her luck with men. Would love to find that last one and string him up by his thumbnails."
"Daniel, yes," said Mark. "Terrible shame."
"Oh, so you know all about it," she said, then clucked her tongue; he didn't actually know what had happened to cause the split, but he was pretty certain it hadn't been Bridget's fault. "She is really one of the kindest people I know. Loyal beyond all expectations, and always the first to pitch in when needed."
"How long have you known her?"
"We have been friends since…" She tapped her fingers against her thumb as if counting. "Oh, God, since uni." She chuckled. "She was there when I met Jeremy, there on my wedding day, there for me after Constance was born—I mean, I have two sisters and I chose Bee for godmother—and of course she helped after Harry too." She smiled, then laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"I was just remembering after bringing Constance home, the first time Bee came to visit, how much she didn't want to hold the baby. She was so afraid she'd do something wrong. I had to tell her aside from trying to make an infant do the Macarena, there wasn't much she could do wrong. She only had to hold her, support her neck, you know." He didn't, not really, but let Magda continue. "Then once she got Constance in her arms… oh, she was a natural, sitting there, smiling and talking away. Constance has always adored her."
Mark smiled; despite all evidence he'd seen to the contrary, he could picture this vignette completely. "So you see Bridget quite a lot?"
"Oh, yes. We'll go out for lunch occasionally, though I know she's a working girl with a very busy day…" Magda seemed nostalgic for a moment, but that was gone in an instant. "She's also good about babysitting when we need a night out, and there's really no one I'd rather trust them with—even when her babysitting goes awry."
"Nothing dangerous," said Magda. "Constance has Bee wrapped around her little finger, so my darling little daughter can talk her into just about anything, especially if Pingu the penguin or sweets are involved."
Mark laughed quietly to himself.
"Is this something you've witnessed yourself?"
"Not to that extent," he said. "I was just recalling two occasions when someone must have talked her into wearing things that she obviously did not want to wear."
Magda smiled. "I think she mentioned something about a fancy dress competition at a lawn fete in the country… when it comes down to it, Bee really just wants to please everyone. Sometimes she loses herself in there."
"It's a very generous thing to do," said Mark.
"She's no Mother Teresa," teased Magda. "But yes, she has a good heart."
"Yes," said Mark. "I believe she does."
Magda then did something that surprised him: she gave him a sidelong look, a smirk hovering upon her lips, then asked in an uncharacteristically forthright manner, "So, Mark, thinking of asking her out?"
He felt the heat of his blush wash across his skin. "Am I that transparent?"
She chuckled a little. "I don't think anyone, including Natasha, failed to notice your interest in Bee, especially when she said she was single again."
"Oh," said Mark. "But I don't think she likes me very much. In fact, I don't think she likes me at all."
"I don't know why you'd say that," she said. "You're perfectly likeable."
"Thanks," he said. "We got off to such a bad start, though, on New Years in Grafton Underwood, and it's been downhill from there."
"New Years?" He could see the wheels turning in her mind. "You went to her mum's curry buffet?" He nodded. "Oh… oh God. You weren't wearing the reindeer jumper, were you?"
"It was in fact me," he said sheepishly. "I was in a foul mood. I mean, I always get that way around Christmas."
"For good reason," interjected Magda, patting his hand with her own; Magda only knew that was when the marriage broke up, when Mark had left his adulterous wife, but Magda did not know any details, and he preferred it that way.
"And on top of that," he said, "my mother was pushing me towards her."
"Bee said the same about her own mum."
He remembered Pam and Una discussing the gravy, Una insistent upon Pam's presence, and laughed lightly. "There was a bit of conspiracy, I think," he said. "You know how it is, though. Someone tries to make you do something, naturally you're resistant."
"Naturally," said Magda. "So what changed?"
"Now I can see they were right." He regarded her thoughtfully. "Do you think I should?"
"Ask her out? Absolutely," she said without hesitation. "She could do a lot worse than you, Mark Darcy." She winked, and that made him chuckle again.
"All right," he said. He ate the last of his shortbread biscuits, drank down the rest of the coffee, then set his mug on the table. "I should probably be off."
"It was good talking with you," said Magda. "Good luck."
He wasn't sure if she meant in court or with her friend, and he decided he didn't want to know. "Thank you. I enjoyed talking with you, too."
He said his goodbyes, and within moments was on the street; the comparative silence felt heavy on his ears. He considered the short conversation with Magda the entire way home. Of course he could not distract himself with thoughts of her while the most important case of his career was winding down (to a successful conclusion, he hoped). That was what he told himself, anyway. It wasn't as if he hadn't been thinking of her all along in some capacity.
As he washed up in preparation for bed, he realised he was still thinking about post-court Thursday; he knew and accepted he would not be able to wait much beyond the decision to ask her out. Whether he won or lost the case, he couldn't think of a nicer way to wrap up the day than to secure a date with her.
If she accepts, he thought traitorously.
He paused what he was doing and met his reflection's gaze. Have a little confidence in yourself, he thought. He thought about the expression on her face at his confession that he liked her as she was. That was not the expression of a woman who was untouched; at the very least she had been rendered speechless, and that had to count for something.
But more doubt crept in. He thought about her obvious disgust when Natasha had snapped her fingers to get his attention. Did she think he was so weak-willed as to go running like a puppy when she called—particularly as he did heed her call and go back upstairs? How seriously would she take his date request if she thought Natasha was already his girlfriend? He thought with a sense of horror about how close Natasha came to actually being his girlfriend; how much he regretted that weekend in the country; how he had been trying to distance himself from Natasha ever since. But Bridget wasn't blind nor was she stupid. Why would she want him when he made poor choices like that?
He cleared his throat. He couldn't let negative thoughts stop him from trying.
"Bridget," he said to his reflection. "I was… would you… please will you consider…" He exhaled sharply. Why could he systematically tear apart witnesses in court, yet something as basic as asking a woman he fancied out for dinner was beyond his capability?
"Bridget," he began again. "Will you have dinner with me?" Too formal. "Please?" Too desperate. "Bridget, you would do me the honour of…" Too nineteenth century. He exhaled again. "I'd very much like to have dinner with you." He paused. He might be on to something with that last one. He allowed himself a smile. "Yes, I'd like that very much indeed."
Spirits bolstered, he finished preparing for bed, then slipped between his sheets. As he rested his head against his pillow, he closed his eyes; for the first time in many months, he thought not of court and legal precedent, but of the shining eyes and winning smile of a beautiful woman as she opened the door to her flat to greet him.