"Warren who?" Jonathan grips the cat by the shoulders as I force open his trembling jaw.
"You know, Hunter. The one I used to go out with who makes pom-poms and shantung table lights. We saw him in Elle Decoration." I flip the tablet on to the cat's tongue. He makes little retching movements, shakes his head.
"The one you met pushing his car?" says Jonathan. The cat yowls. I let go. He spits and the tablet emerges, coated in saliva, falls on to my black velvet leggings, sticks. "One nil," he says. "Try again."
"He hasn't changed," I chuck the tablet against the back of the cat's rough, mauve tongue, "Except, well, he's got married."
"Missed your chance there," says Jonathan. The cat gulps, swallows, "One all." He lets go and the cat bolts.
"What d'you mean, missed my chance?"
"I thought you really liked him - you always go on about how romantic it was, the way you met."
"Meeting someone is always romantic," I insist. "It was romantic how you and I met."
Jonathan makes the scornful noise boys always make when they're told the truth about something to do with love and it's too much for them to bear.
I met Warren on a hot, August evening when I'd been in London less than a month and knew no one but didn't care. I was 22 and working in a theatre and in love with my job, which involved typing letters on a juddery electric typewriter and making coffee. Sometimes, after work, I'd get on the tube and ride up and down, elated. I had nowhere to go, but I loved the dark shudder as trains approached, the blank, rat-race faces, the sigh of the closing doors.
As it got hotter, I just walked - all over the scorched pavements of London, wearing the heels down on my Dolcis pumps. I bought pizza and ice-cream on the street like a tourist - I was just a girl from Nottingham and this was the capital city. My life, I was certain, was just around the corner.
Just around the corner, in fact, was Warren Hunter. It was 10pm and still light: subdued birdsong, waves of wisteria scent, dust. I was going to fetch my laundry from the dryer in Bubbles launderette and I turned the corner and there was the handsomest boy I had ever seen, pushing a small, broken-looking car.
"Do you need a hand?" I said immediately, because I wasn't a cool, inhibited Londoner then.
"Great," he said, and I pressed my little, bitten fingers against his boot and together we pushed. We made little progress. After about a street and a half, we gave up and went to the pub. The car stayed precisely where we left it, gathering rust, for about nine weeks - more or less exactly the length of our affair.
"Warren was nice, like a brother to me, really."
"Sounds like one for the At-Risk Register," says Jonathan grimly.
But he was. Warren was tall and dark and stunning, with blindingly good teeth and the kind of hectic, funky taste that girls really go for. "His duvet was a beautiful colour," I say. "He'd dyed it himself. And he had African art."
"Fertility symbols? Priapic statuary?" says Jonathan who's tipping back on his chair and looking away, "And - don't tell me - his parents really liked you?"
"That was just the problem!" I cry. "He had one of those stifling, perfect families, full of millions more of HIM - a crowd of disgustingly happy, strong and healthy siblings who all wanted me to listen to music and go for walks and talk about art and life and humanity. They all loved their parents and were doing degrees - and they lived in a too-fucking-wonderful- for-words house in the country with a duck pond and a wishing well."
"So what was wrong with that?" asks Jonathan, when I draw breath. "You've always craved the English rural myth."
I frown at the memory - it's ages since I've thought honestly about Warren Hunter. "There was something missing."
"Sex," says Jonathan.
"Well, yes," I concede, sorry to allow him to score a point at this stage, "I really liked him, I really wanted to like him and I think he wanted to like me, but ..."
"He didn't come on to you."
"He was too laid back, too content. He was just as happy for me to play Scrabble with one of his brothers or sisters."
"Maybe he's gay?"
"l don't think so," I say, touched at Jonathan's unabashed confidence in me. "It's just he just ceased to be necessary."
"Are boys necessary?"
"The jury's still out on that one," I tell him, "But at least when I met you there was definite feeling there."
"We hated each other."
"Yes and hate's a proper feeling, a passion - hatred can turn to love. It did."
Jonathan and I worked together, annoyed the hell out of each other and, when we'd finished doing that, moved in together and had a baby.
"I warn you, that sort of love can turn back to hate - it doesn't take much," says Jonathan, preening himself now it's been proven that Warren Hunter was a mere brother to me.
But I'm not listening. "Our love was just like in the movies," I tell him, because I know it'll get on his nerves.
"Do you," he grabs my chin and tips my head back, "want a worming tablet? There's one left."Reuse content