I sighed as I curled up on the sofa beside Noel. Another Saturday night and we were watching Arsenal on our vast plasma TV again. Now, don’t get me wrong, Noel’s a lovely guy – good-looking, kind, considerate, and certainly a huge improvement on the others. And I don’t mind him watching football – I don’t even mind watching it with him, as long as I don’t have to have long conversations about ball control or the offside rule afterwards. I’ve got nothing against Arsenal, either. But I was beginning to feel he loved Arsenal more than me, and, silly though it sounds, I was getting jealous. If they won, he’d call his mates and they’d all go out together. If they lost, he’s storm off to the spare room and slam the door, emerging red-eyed and subdued the next morning.
I’d try to distract him sometimes. I’d read in some daft women’s magazine that one way to maintain a bond with your football-mad man during a tournament was to dress up and serve him beer and pizza during the half-time break. It seemed a good idea, so one night, I dressed up in a 50’s cigarette girl outfit – a short, frilly black dress with layers of pale-pink frilly petticoats, black fishnet stockings, and long black satin gloves. I placed a long blonde wig on my head, smiling as I adjusted it; though I say it myself, I looked great. I cooked his favourite pepperoni pizza and laid it, warm and inviting, artistically across the plate, and poured out a pint of chilled beer. I carried it into the living room and laid it on the table in front of him, smiling seductively. Surely he couldn’t resist this half-time package?
‘Hey,’ he said, nodding at me. I waited.
‘Would you mind moving to the left a bit?’ he said, absently. ‘You’re blocking the view. I want to hear Gary’s view on how they’re playing.’
I sighed as I realised the truth. I was officially a football widow. I didn’t ignite any passion in him, I thought; he’d rather watch a load of middle-aged football punters talking about action in the mid-field than get any action with me.
One night, I managed to get him to come out with me, because Arsenal were playing on the pub’s satellite TV. I hugged his arm as he stood with the other lads, but as time went on, I felt lower and lower. I excused myself, and he carried on watching, without even noticing me, so it seemed.
I walked round to the quiet little area at the back of the pub. There were groups of couples, chatting happily, and a slim, dark-haired man in a brown corduroy suit drinking on his own. I went to the bar and ordered a large dry white wine, and looked around for somewhere to sit. The only place available was at the table opposite the single man. He looked approachable, so I took my wine in hand and walked up to him.
‘’Scuse me, is this seat taken?’ I said. He looked up at me and I was struck by his big, beautiful dark eyes. He was very handsome. I think I blushed, because he grinned at me.
‘It’s free. Go ahead,’ he said, in a soft Scottish accent, smiling warmly. I thanked him and sat, crossing my legs.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘David,’ he said, taking a sip from his pint of ale. ‘Yours?’
‘Debbie,’ I said. He smiled at me again, and I felt my heart give a little flutter. What a lovely smile he had.
‘Nice to meet you. Are you here on your own?’
I glimpsed towards the bar, as a massive cheer rang out. I glimpsed Noel, his arms draped over two pairs of male shoulders, whooping with glee.
‘Yes,’ I said. I sipped my wine. ‘So, what do you do?’
‘Weeell, it depends,’ he said, running his fingers through his tousled hair. ‘I’m a teacher by profession.’
‘Wow,’ I said, remembering how horrible I’d been to my teachers. ‘Tough job.’
‘Oh, it’s OK. They’re good kids – well, most of them…’ he said, grimacing slightly. ‘Actually, I’m looking into teaching adults. In fact, I’m about to start an adult class on Saturday nights. Shakespeare for beginners. Here,’ he said, reaching into the inside pocket of his jacket and drawing out a business card. ‘Give me a ring if you’re interested. No-one’s signed up so far.’
I studied the card, and smiled at him. I had a lot of very attractive costumes at home that were wasted on Noel. You could wear them to the lessons, where you and him will be there at night, on your own, a little devil on my left shoulder seemed to say.
‘I might,’ I said. ‘I could do with a bit more culture in my life.’
A huge groan of dismay sounded from the bar.
‘Lovely to meet you,’ I said, extending my hand and tingling all over as he gripped it softly. ‘I think I’d better go, before all those disappointed fans fill the streets.’
‘Good idea,’ he said. ‘Take care.’
I walked back home with Noel, who was taking the news of Arsenal’s defeat as well as I expected.
‘It’s a disaster,’ he mumbled tearfully.
‘They’re big lads,’ I counselled him, ‘they’ll get over it.’
He sighed heavily. ‘Devastating,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing more important in my life than Arsenal. Nothing.’
‘What did you…’ I began, furiously, then gave up, feeling myself deflate like a balloon. There was no point. He didn’t love me. We walked the rest of the way in silence, both of us in tears.
‘If you don’t mind,’ I said, back in the flat, ‘I’ll sleep in the spare room tonight.’
I sat on the single bed, thinking. Then I heard loud emo music being played at high volume downstairs, and rolled my eyes. Come on, it’s only a match, I thought. I took the card from my bag and dialled the number.
‘David?’ I said, ‘It’s Debbie. We met this evening.’
‘Oh hi there Debbie, how can I help you?’ he said.
‘I think I will sign up for your adult lessons. They sound a lot of fun,’ I said.