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Chapter 33
The taxi arrived and we made an intermediate stop at theflower shop.
I had not been inside this shop – or indeed purchased flowersat all –since I’d stopped visiting Daphne. Daphne for Daphne;obviously the appropriate choice for this evening was roses. Thevendor recognised me and I informed her of Daphne’s death.
After I purchased a dozen long-stemmed red roses, consistentwith standard romantic behaviour, she snipped a small quantityof daphne and inserted it in the buttonhole of my jacket. Thesmell brought back memories of Daphne.
I wished she was alive to meet Rosie.
I tried to phone Rosie as the taxi approached her apartmentbuilding, but there was no answer. She was not outside whenwe arrived, and most of the bell buttons did not have namesbeside them. There was a risk that she had chosen not toaccept my invitation.
It was cold and I was shaking. I waited a full ten minutes,then called again. There was still no answer and I was aboutto instruct the driver to leave when she came running out. Ireminded myself that it was I who had changed, not Rosie – Ishould have expected her to be259/290late. She was wearing the black dress that had stunned me onthe night of the Jacket Incident. I gave her the roses. I readher expression as surprised.
Then she looked at me.
‘You look different … really different … again,’ she said. ‘Whathappened?’
‘I decided to reform myself.’ I liked the sound of the word:
We got in the taxi, Rosie still holding the roses, and travelledthe short distance to the restaurant in silence. I was looking forinformation about her attitude towards me, and thought it bestto let her speak first. In fact she didn’t say anything until shenoticed that the taxi was stopping outside Le Gavroche – thescene of the Jacket Incident.
‘Don, is this a joke?’
I paid the driver, exited the taxi and opened Rosie’s door. Shestepped out but was reluctant to proceed, clutching the roses toher chest with both hands. I put one hand behind her andguided her towards the door, where the ma?tre d’ whom wehad encountered on our previous visit was standing in hisuniform. Jacket Man.
He recognised Rosie instantly, as evidenced by his greeting.
Then he looked at me. ‘Sir?’
‘Good evening.’ I took the flowers from Rosie and gave themto the ma?tre d’. ‘We have a reservation in the name ofTillman. Would you be kind enough to look after these?’ It wasa standard formula but very confidence-boosting. Everyoneseemed very comfortable now that we were behaving in apredictable manner. The ma?tre d’ checked the reservation list.
I took the opportunity to smooth over any remaining difficultiesand made a small prepared joke.
‘My apologies for the misunderstanding last time. Thereshouldn’t be any difficulties tonight. Unless they overchill thewhite Burgundy.’ I smiled.
260/290A male waiter appeared, the ma?tre d’ introduced me, brieflycomplimenting me on my jacket, and we were led into thedining room and to our table. It was all very straightforward.
I ordered a bottle of chablis. Rosie still seemed to be adjusting.
The sommelier appeared with the wine. He was looking aroundthe room, as if for support. I diagnosed nervousness.
‘It’s at thirteen degrees but if sir would like it less chilled … ormore chilled …’
‘That will be fine, thank you.’
He poured me a taste and I swirled, sniffed and noddedapproval according to the standard protocol. Meanwhile, thewaiter who had led us to the table reappeared. He was aboutforty, BMI approximately twenty-two, quite tall.
‘Professor Tillman?’ he said. ‘My name’s Nick and I’m the headwaiter. If there’s anything you need, or anything that’s aproblem, just ask for me.’
‘Much appreciated, Nick.’
Waiters introducing themselves by name was more in theAmerican tradition. Either this restaurant deliberately chose todo so as a point of difference, or we were being given morepersonal treatment. I guessed the latter: I was probably markedas a dangerous person.
Good. I would need all the support I could get tonight.
Nick handed us menus.
‘I’m happy to leave it to the chef,’ I said. ‘But no meat, andseafood only if it’s sustainable.’
Nick smiled. ‘I’ll speak to the chef and see what he can do.’
‘I realise it’s a little tricky, but my friend lives by some quitestrict rules,’ I said.
Rosie gave me a very strange look. My statement was intendedto make a small point, and I think it succeeded. She tried herchablis and buttered a bread roll. I remained silent.
261/290Finally she spoke.
‘All right, Gregory Peck. What are we doing first? The My FairLady story or the big revelation?’
This was good. Rosie was prepared to discuss things directly.
In fact, directness had always been one of Rosie’s positiveattributes, though on this occasion she had not identified themost important topic.
‘I’m in your hands,’ I said. Standard polite method for avoidinga choice and empowering the other person.
‘Don, stop it. You know who my father is, right? It’sTable-Napkin Man, isn’t it?’
‘Possibly,’ I said, truthfully. Despite the positive outcome of themeeting with the Dean, I did not have my lab key back. ‘Thatisn’t what I want to share.’
‘All right then. Here’s the plan. You share your thing; tell mewho my father is; tell me what you’ve done to yourself; weboth go home.’
I couldn’t put a name to her tone of speech and expression,but it was clearly negative. She took another sip of her wine.
‘Sorry.’ She looked a little apologetic. ‘Go. The sharing thing.’
I had grave doubts about the likely efficacy of my next move,but there was no contingency plan. I had sourced my speechfrom When Harry Met Sally. It resonated best with me andwith the situation, and had the additional advantage of the linkto our happy time in New York. I hoped Rosie’s brain wouldmake that connection, ideally subconsciously. I drank theremainder of my wine. Rosie’s eyes followed my glass, then shelooked up at me.
‘Are you okay, Don?’
‘I asked you here tonight because when you realise you wantto spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want therest of your life to start as soon as possible.’
I studied Rosie’s expression carefully. I diagnosed stunned.
262/290‘Oh my God,’ said Rosie, confirming the diagnosis. I followedup while she was still receptive.
‘It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is makingmy way here to you.’
I could see that Rosie could not place the line from TheBridges of Madison County that had produced such apowerful emotional reaction on the plane. She looked confused.
‘Don, what are you … what have you done to yourself?’
‘I’ve made some changes.’
‘Big changes.’
‘Whatever behavioural modifications you require from me are atrivial price to pay for having you as my partner.’
Rosie made a downwards movement with her hand, which Icould not interpret. Then she looked around the room and Ifollowed her eyes. Everyone was watching. Nick had stoppedpartway to our table. I realised that in my intensity I hadraised my voice. I didn’t care.
‘You are the world’s most perfect woman. All other women are............
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