‘Do you love her?’
I stopped dead in my tracks, my heart leaping to my throat, a deer in headlights.
‘You heard me.’ He said it with more force this time, adopting a stern, fatherly tone; ‘do you love her?’
An eerie silence fell between them and I leaned my head against the cool wall of the hall way, my suddenly sandy tongue plastering itself to the roof of my mouth. What do I do? Do I stay where I am, unmoving and unheard? Or do I creep away, risking the floorboards giving away my position, my unlawful eavesdropping?
I imagined him leaning against the marble kitchen counter, hands deep in jean pockets, head lowered, eyes cast to the floor. There came a sigh, from which man I will never know. Slippered feet shuffled on the kitchen tiles.
I closed my eyes and bit hard on my trembling lip. My mind conjured images of his father’s stern eyes, calloused hands resting on generous hips and a brow raised. My imagination mustn’t have been running too wild, as there came an exasperated sigh.
‘I haven’t even had this conversation with her yet, let alone you! I love her, Dad. I do. And I’m scared.’
I thought of his rough hands, like father like son, being pulled over his face and through his thick, dark hair. Another sigh was forced through pursed lips. Why are you scared? I pinched the bridge of my nose and concentrated on the scuffed skirting board, noticing for the first time the line of Thomas the Tank Engine stickers that paraded the edge meeting the laminate floorboards. I thought of the other fragments of vandalism around the house from his childhood; the crayoned characters behind the door of the cupboard under the stairs, the broken photo frame still parading the smiling faces of his grandparents, the paint on the face of the well-loved rabbit of his infancy that was still proudly perched atop his wardrobe. I let a smile creep across my still shaking lips.
His father crossed the kitchen and I held my breath as he switched on the kettle and rattled a mug from the cupboard. ‘I’m not much of a romantic, you know that. Your mother and I, there was never much between us. None of these sparks you kids talk of.’
He pressed on, and I strained to hear over the crescendo of the old kettle. ‘We got along alright and laughed together and such. But you guys… There’s something else there. A spark if you will, all that bullshit.’ He exhaled sharply through his nose and cleared his throat. I stood with my hands clasped together at my chest; I’d never hear him speak with care about anything other than his model train collection. ‘You should tell her. I think you should go and tell her.’
I utilised the disguising rumble of boiling water and turned a small circle on the ball of my foot to tiptoe my way back down the hall, before placing myself neatly on the sofa as if it hadn’t even occurred to me to get up and offer to make to tea. The fridge door slammed, a spoon clattered against china, and heavy feet made their way up the stairs above me. I heaved a shaky sigh and my eyes turned to the window, wondering why on earth I was panicking so much. For I knew exactly what I was going to say.
I love you too.