Love at Twenty

A flash fiction

‘Okay. What’s eatin’ you?’
Lily didn’t look up as Jack sat himself down opposite her and leant his arms on the table. She wanted to get her words in the right order. She felt his gaze and kept her eyes down as she spoke.
‘I just wanted you to know that you really annoyed me – that way you whistled and shouted out some leery sexist comment when you first saw me.’ She stared at his suit buttons.
‘Oh. Right. Yeah well. Gosh…’
Silence.
‘It’s not funny, Jack.’
‘Who’s laughing?’
Lily looked up. ‘You. Your eyes are laughing. I just had to tell you.’
‘Well, I promise I won’t do it again.’ Now he was laughing. ‘But I do fancy you. I’ve always fancied you. Nothing wrong with that is there?’ He smoothed his smart new mauve silk tie like a pet guinea pig.
‘Will we do your cake in a minute?’ a voice interrupted.
‘Oh yes, thanks, Fiona, thanks… You made me feel like an object, Jack. Cheap. That’s what you made me feel. And in front of all the lads from work. I felt like you were just doing it for their benefit.’
Jack reached across the table and took her hands. He fiddled with her engagement ring with his thumb. ‘You’re not cheap. You never were. I’m truly, honestly, sincerely sorry if I offended you. It was never my intention. I’m just a bit shy with the girls and it was the only way I knew how to make the first move. And I’ve been good to you ever since haven’t I?’
‘Mostly.’ Lily smiled her wicked smile and Jack knew he’d been forgiven.
‘I thought it was love at first sight, you know?’ He looked thoughtful.
‘Oh?’ Lily had thought so too. Secretly. She twiddled with the white lace cuffs of her dress, looking down again to hide her disappointment.
‘But how can you really know what love is at twenty?’ Jack lifted Lily’s chin with his fingers.
The noise in the room began to build and they realised that their names were being chanted.
‘We’d better go over.’ Lily nodded behind him at the expectant faces.
Jack helped her to her feet and they walked, arms linked, over to the semi-circle of guests around a large white cake, as people began to clap and cheer.
‘Speech. Speech. Speech!’
Lily held back as always but Jack raised his hand and cleared his throat.
‘Sixty years ago. I married the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I didn’t think you could be in love anymore than I was then. I really thought it was love at first sight and I’d scored a real corker.’ He stopped and placed a shaky arm over Lily’s shoulders.
‘But I was wrong. I fell a little more in love with her every year. This is what love really is. It’s knowing someone inside and loving them more as the outside falls apart.’
‘Charming.’ Lily dug him in the ribs. But her eyes were shining.

‘Will we give the other residents some cake, if there’s enough?’ asked Fiona.

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