He took her hand again as they walked in and across the wide tiled entrance to a room with subdued lighting, filled with small tables. A piano was playing softly.
For a brief moment, Cleo wondered if Ailsa really was ill, or if this was another ruse, a way of her friend ensuring she and Will were alone in this romantic atmosphere. Then, she and Will were being shown to a table in a secluded corner and handed a menu.
‘Not my usual scene,’ Will said, gazing around and running a finger around the inside of his collar.
‘Mine, neither. You don’t think…?’
‘We’ve been set up? Wouldn’t surprise me. But let’s not get too uptight about it. No one knows us here. It’s not like the club or the gallery where we were on show.’
‘I can still feel that woman’s eyes burning into my back as we left,’ Cleo said. ‘Mission accomplished, I think.’
Will chuckled. ‘I should hope so. What will you have to drink?’ He held up the menu.
Cleo perused the offerings which appeared to be a lot of fancy-named drinks containing mixtures of alcohol and fruit juices. There were weird names like Widow’s Kiss and Death in the Afternoon. Then she caught sight of the prices which were the cost of a meal in the café. ‘We can’t…’ she said, starting to rise.
‘Yes, we can.’ Will put a restraining hand on her arm, just firm enough to keep Cleo in her seat. ‘Look on this as an experience. How about the Bay Breeze?’
The name appealed to Cleo and didn’t sound too outlandish. She read the ingredients – vodka, cranberry juice and pineapple juice. It didn’t sound too bad. ‘Okay,’ she agreed.
When they arrived, the drinks were accompanied by a dish of salted nuts, which Will pushed aside. ‘These are only designed to make us want to drink more,’ he said. ‘What shall we drink to?’ Will held up the glass filled with yellow liquid and garnished with a wheel of lime.
‘To Martin and Ailsa,’ Cleo said without having to think. ‘They are the ones who got us into this.’ She wasn’t sure if she was referring to their present situation or the entire plan, but both were the result of Ailsa’s meddling. Cleo wasn’t sure if she’d ever forgive her new friend.
But, two drinks later, Cleo was feeling mellow. Will was proving to be a more interesting companion than she’d anticipated. She enjoyed hearing his tales of the scrapes he and Martin got up to when they were growing up in Bellbird Bay, and stories of his surfing adventures. She was surprised to find herself sharing stories of her own, of how she left home to move to Byron Bay and how she set up her own café.
‘I think we need coffee before we leave,’ Will said eventually. ‘I don’t think I can drive right now.’
Coffee sounded good, even though Cleo knew it would probably keep her awake, and she had to front up at the café next morning. Sunday wasn’t a holiday for her. It was one of her busiest days, a day when everyone and his dog seemed to descend on the garden centre and decide to stop in at the café for coffee or lunch.
Along with the coffee, Will suggested they order dessert, reminding Cleo it was some time since she’d eaten, and she’d had several drinks since then.
The servings of red velvet soft cheesecake with amaretto crumb and raspberry sorbet looked and tasted delicious. When it was time to leave, Cleo gave a sigh of regret. After being reluctant to come here, she’d have been happy to stay longer. It felt as if she and Will were locked in a cocoon of happiness.
Neither spoke on the way back to Cleo’s house. Cleo found herself basking in the glow of what felt like a surreal evening, glad of the dark interior of the van, though she did catch Will glancing her way occasionally, as if he wanted to say something. When the van stopped, Will insisted she remained seated while he made his way around to the passenger side and opened the door. As she took his proffered hand and stepped out, Cleo raised her head to look up at the sky.
It was such a lovely evening. The sky was clear, the stars sparkling, the air so still Cleo could hear the distant roar of the waves as they beat on the shore, even though she was some distance from the beach. It all felt so magical.
When Will pulled her towards him, his lips meeting hers, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. A perfect ending to an evening that had surpassed all her expectations. In a dreamlike state, Cleo responded, savouring the kiss.
But when they pulled apart, they stared at each other for a moment before Will said, ‘Sorry,’ and looked away.
‘Sorry,’ he said again, obviously embarrassed. Then he was gone, his van roaring off into the night.
Cleo touched her fingers to her lips and stared after him. He’d just kissed her and was sorry!.
What had he done?Will’s mind was in a whirl as he drove off. He hadn’t intended to kiss Cleo, but she’d looked so lovely standing there in the moonlight, her dark hair so beguiling, her face turned up to the sky, her lips just waiting to be kissed. It had been so tempting, he couldn’t help himself.
No, that was wrong. He was a grown man. He was able to control his impulses, had for years. He had no excuse for taking advantage of Cleo’s vulnerability. What must she think of him?
Will berated himself all the way home. It wasn’t till he was back in his own house, had poured himself a much-needed glass of Scotch and was seated in his living room staring out into the darkness that he remembered how Cleo had responded. She had leant into him, returned his kiss. He was the one who had pulled away.
His phone pinged. Martin. Will ignored it. He wasn’t going to share his feelings with his old mate. Because, he realised, he did have feelings for Cleo, feelings that went beyond the farcical pretend relationship he’d agreed to.
He headed for bed, but doubted he’d get much sleep. Eventually falling into a restless doze, Will awakened abruptly in the middle of the night, determined to go to see Cleo and apologise. And, in the back of his mind, there was something else, something he had intended to raise with her, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what it was.
Next morning, Will made coffee and toast before reading the text Martin had sent the night before.