„I am so glad you finally found some time for us“, Sophie said and ushered Lily into the kitchen. „Please tell me you can have a glass of wine?“
Lily nodded. „I am not on call tonight, so wine it is.“
„Excellent“, Ben chimed in and quickly poured a glass of red wine before handing it to Lily. „It's good to see you again“, he said while hugging her quickly.
„I am glad too. And sorry for not making it earlier. But things have been slightly crazy at work. Which is the understatement of the year. I am still trying to find my way around.“ Lily leaned against the kitchen counter and sipped on her wine. She knew that it wouldn't take much to get her drunk but she decided not to care for the moment.
„Are you still shuffling between all three places?“, Sophie asked as she stirred the lamb stew.
Lily sighed. „Yes, I am. And it will stay like that. I honestly don't know what I thought agreeing to that contract. I thought it would be a great deal and keep things from getting boring. But nothing about that job is ever boring. The past three years have been so different for me. It was almost like living in a bubble and I think I pretty much forgot what life and work in a big city are like.“
„I'm sure you'll get used to it again“, Ben said but sounded a bit uncertain. Before Lily could answer, the door bell rang. „I'll get it.“ With that, he rushed out the door.
„Are you expecting someone else?“, Lily asked and couldn't help but notice the rather guilty look on Sophie's face.
„Listen...tonight isn't just about catching up with old friends.“ Lily raised an eyebrow at her. „Ben and I invited a friend to join us for dinner.“
„Why?“ Lily felt a slight anger rise inside her.
Sophie took a deep breath. „Because you are 35 now and all you've done so far in your life is study and work. The last guy you seriously dated was my brother and that was...what...15 years ago?! You're young, you're beautiful and you need to put yourself out there. Otherwise you will never have the family you always wanted to have.“ Lily closed her eyes for a second, trying to surpress the sting to her heart that she always felt when the matter of starting a family was mentioned. There had been many times where she wanted to tell Sophie the truth about everything, and she did again now. But she knew that it was not the right time. „You need to start dating. So we thought we'd introduce you to a friend who might just be what you're looking for.“
„You invited me here for a set up date??“
„Well...no...yes...kind of.“ Sophie smiled at her. „Come on! Just see how things go. You have been back in London for more than four months now and so far, you haven't done anything fun. Let's change that tonight.“
Lily was tempted to just grab her things and leave. She was tired after her shift and really not in the mood for flirting. But she knew that both Sophie and Benedict just meant well. So she flushed down her anger with a big sip of red wine. „Okay, but this better be good...“
Sophie looked up and flashed a big smile at the man who had just entered the kitchen with Ben. She walked over to him and hugged him before turning around to Lily.
„Tom, this is Lily. Lily, this is our dear friend...“
„Tom Hiddleston...yeah, I know“, Lily interrupted her and crossed her arms in front of her body.
„I didn't know we would have company tonight“, the actor said to his friends, looking almost as confused as Lily had just moments ago.
„We just...thought you two should meet“, Ben replied and winked at his friend.
It took him a moment to realise, but then Tom smiled. „I see. Well, in this case...hello, lovely to meet you.“ He held out his hand to Lily.
She scanned him, her arms still crossed. „Can I talk to you?“, she finally broke the silence and dragged Sophie behind her into the living room.
„Lily, what the...“
„Please tell me you're kidding“, she snapped at Sophie louder than she had intended to.
„Why?! Sophie, you know what I think of the guy. You know how I feel about him both as a person and as an actor. So why would you even introduce me to him?“
Sophie rolled her eyes. „Would you please just take the time to get to know him?“
„No! I have no interest in getting to know him. He's arrogant and self-absorbed. He's fake. Everything about him and his image is fake. His need for attention and approval is sickening. He's a priviledged boy who thinks he's better than everybody else. See?! I don't need to get to know him. I can already tell you what kind of person he is.“ Lily was surprised by how appaled she was by him. But he was a person she never wanted to know.
„Lily, please don't be ridiculous! He is nothing like that. Or do you think he and Ben would be best friends if he was?!“
Lily had to admit that there was a certain truth to that, but it didn't change her mind on wanting to get to know him. „Listen, I will go back in there and sit down and be civil for the rest of the evening. Not because I want anything to do with him, but because I'm starving. I haven't had a proper meal in almost a week and whatever you're cooking smells delicious. So I'm staying for that. But please don't expect me to make conversation with him. And don't ever pull a stunt like that on me again.“
An hour later, after an awkwardly silent dinner, all four of them were sitting around the dinner table, staring at their wine glasses. Sophie and Ben had tried to get a conversation going several times, but Lily had always managed to shut it down. And she was proud of it. She hoped that if she stayed silent for long enough, he might go away on his own.
Instead, he broke the silence. „So Lily, what do you do for a living?“
„Please, spare yourself the trouble“, she replied and looked directly into his eyes for the first time. „I am neither an actress nor a singer or a model. I'm not someone you can tag along as an accessory. I won't be impressed by your fame or your fake smile. So just save yourself some time and leave me alone.“
„I...um...“ Tom looked positively lost. „What makes you think that I want an accessory?“
„Because you are that type of man.“
„Lily, please...“, Sophie tried to calm the situation.
„No no, I want to hear this“, Tom interrupted her, his tone still polite, but serious.
Lily emptied her wine glass and then turned to him again. „You are the kind of man who pretends to be understanding and tolerant and submissive. You use your charm to get what you want. And you know that your looks and your name will always get you any woman you want. Because they all want you. They fall for the smiles and the blue eyes and your boyish attitude. You pretend to be humble because you know that they will all tell you how great they think you are. And that's what you actually live for...the praise, the compliments. You use an act to charm your way through life. But let me tell you, it won't work on me. I couldn't be less interested in anything you have to offer. So please, spare me the fake flattery. And now...“ She pushed back her chair and quickly got up from the table. „...please excuse me. I've had enough of this. I have an early shift tomorrow and this just isn't worth giving up my beauty sleep.“ With that, she grabbed her bag and stormed out the door.
Sophie buried her face in her hands while Ben reached over and put his hand on Tom's shoulder. „Man, I am so sorry. This is not at all how we thought this would go...“
„Really?!“, Tom replied, no longer trying to hide his disappointment. „What made you think that she was someone I should meet? And...why did you even set this up?“
„We were just trying to help“, Sophie tried to explain. „She's usually a lovely girl. She dated my brother for several years. A lot of things happened during that time and she pretty much became family. So I care about her. She's one of my closest friends and just as single as you are.“
„We just thought you two might get along“, Ben added.
„Get along? That woman hates me! I don't know what I ever did to her, but she hates me.“ Tom still couldn't believe his friends would put im in a situation like that.
„She doesn't hate you“, Sophie corrected him. „She's just...bitter. I watched her turn into someone else over the years. She has trained herself to be a robot, but deep down she is just as affectionate as you are. Seriously, if you knew her...“
Tom raised his hand to stop her. „Honestly, I don't care. This was a wasted evening. It was lovely to see you both and the food was amazing as always. But this is the kind of encounter nobody needs to have. I'm sorry, but I am done for today.“
After wishing both of them goodnight, Tom left the house almost as quickly as Lily had.
Alone again, Ben turned to Sophie. „I knew that she wasn't too fond of him, but I never expected this. Did you know that she felt about him that way?“
Sophie shook her head. „Believe me, I have no idea where this is coming from. But something tells me that this isn't over yet.“