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A Friday Brew

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He clicked on the kettle and stood there in the kitchenette with his back to her desk. It had got to that time of the week, Friday 2:45ish, when he habitually asked “So fancy a pint after work?”.

He preferred the Fridays when one of them was out on surveillance and the question could be asked in a text rather than in person. The text was far easier - no effort was needed into asking the loaded question and making it sound matter of factly.

He hated how he was growing dependent on the Friday night drinks. ‘...but enough self awareness’ he thought to himself.

It’s just work mates having a beer. The whole world has an ale with workmates on Fridays in the local pub. Nothing strange about that.’ he lied to himself.

He winced, as he placed tea bags in the mugs, today was Valentine’s Day. It felt inappropriate to go out tonight with a workmate. But if he didn’t ask it would equally sound odd.

The water started to bubble in the kettle. He liked the structure of a Friday evening. Cases permitting, one or both would leave Denmark Street at 4:45pm to get a table before the 5pm offices walked in and nabbed them all. Whoever got the drinks, the other would walk in through the door 5-7mins later. That way it looked relaxed, a non chalent effort, when the truth was they both wanted to get on with being in each other’s company and debriefing over the cases and the players.

When she was happily married the drinks would finish after a round each. She’d be on the way to the tube by 6:45pm to meet the accountant for drinks or a meal with his mates near Canary Wharf generally. Reluctantly he always suspected.

Since the change in status, it had gradually increased to 3 rounds. Whoever was short of buying a round that evening, routinely finished the night with “i’ll get the first round next week”. It was a nice way to secure a gesture of commitment to the next Friday evening.

Recently, it had additionally involved a walk through Chinatown on the way to the tube. Stopping off for a cheeky Chinese in one of the low-key restaurants with a cracking menu. The type of restaurant that only long term workers of Soho had discovered through the years.

It was always low key. There was never any progression into overt flirting by either party towards the end of the night. However there was a growing sense of relaxed comfortableness and co-dependency to this weekly arrangement. There was increasingly more laughter and a noted change in proximity of their seating to each other in the pub or restaurant. But no flirting.

It was always on the walk back to Denmark Street, with a couple of ales in his belly that he allowed himself a little pining for her. Beyond the business arrangement. By the time he climbed the steps to the flat, he would convince himself of his foolishness and that these Friday moments were numbered. She would be dating another accountant similar in age and background by the summer. She would be securely hooked up by September at the latest.

He drained the bag from each mug. A splash of milk in his, a decent amount in hers. Just the stirring left, then the question. Ignore the date.

He walked towards her desk, a mug in each hand. And placed her mug down next to the in/out tray. He clocked a red envelope addressed to her in the in tray- opened roughly at the top.

He stood there for a second and experienced physical symptoms of being completely gutted. She typed on with her back to him. He could hear her typing slowing down. He took a long slow sip from his mug and covertly scanned the office and looked for the offending card. Nothing in sight. He scanned the top of her open bag next to the swivel chair. Nothing. ‘Fuck’ he thought to himself ‘it’s over already. Before anything had a chance to even start. Fuck.’

She turned in her chair and smiled up at him ‘Thanks!’ she said enthusiastically, referring to the cup of brew and took the vessel in both hands. He stood there, mug in hand. Feeling a complete mug.

He smiled back awkwardly and looked over her head out towards the window. This was question time traditionally. But not today. Probably not next Friday either now. He turned on his heel and shouted back towards her, pointing at the window as he withdrew “Going to pop out for some fags before the rain kicks in”.

Tradition officially broken. It had a good run. It was fine. It was better this way.

She watched him leave the front office and retreat to his own. She took a sip and stared at the empty space Cormoran traditionally stood in when they did small talk following a brew. She slowly turned back to the computer and read the last line she had written prior to the interruption. She restarted her typing.

“....Cormoran?...” she shouted out to him whilst simultaneously touch typing and looking at the screen.

“....yeah?... do you want anything whilst I’m out?” he shouted back in return, out of sight. Tapping his pockets to check for keys and his wallet as he responded distractedly.

“Nah thanks!!” she replied in their shouting volley “....but do you fancy a beer after work tonight?”