Marcus and Scott had met on opposing teams in five-a-side football when Marcus was new to London. These days they shared visits to pubs and local fixtures, although Scott had hoped for more banter now they shared an office. But Marcus was always so busy.
Marcus hadn’t wanted to drink tonight, but the date was in the diary, and Scott wouldn’t let him cry off. Scott insisted a second (responsible) pint was essential for a decent catch-up and now those drinks were on the table they relaxed. The pub which lay in the shadow of progress on the river-end of Southwark Street was a favourite: probably original features, low ceilings crisscrossed by beams and rooms branching off from the main bar.
So far, they’d discussed US immigration policy, the Six Nations rugby and Sainsbury’s TV ad.
After pausing for a sip of London Pride, Marcus mused, “Did you do anything special on Tuesday?”
“Tuesday?” Scott scanned his recent recollections. “Not especially. Why?”
“It was 14 February. Mean anything?”
Scott felt his body slump. “Oh. No. But then I have as much luck finding romance on Valentine’s Day as I would on Friday the 13th.”
Marcus laughed wryly. “It’s not for people flying solo.”
The veracity of Marcus’s remark – was ever he misguided? – grated, but unusually it made Scott feel combative. He said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if one year the tables were turned and Valentine’s Day was just for single people?”
“Fair enough. The world’s already gone mad.” Marcus was irritatingly bipartisan sometimes. “How d’you see it working?”
Scott seized his moment, thinking fast. “OK, say, for example, there was a rule which stated you could only book tables for one in restaurants. People could go in by themselves, have a nice meal, and talk to other people and maybe strike up a connection. You’d know who was seriously single and who was just messing around. I’d be well up for it.”
Marcus shrugged. “You might as well just eat sushi on a bench in Itsu. Do you need the manipulative subtle lighting and the long-stemmed rose in a vase to set the mood? Why not just cop off with someone in the takeaway queue?”
Scott replied, “Is that what you’d do? No… You’ve always got someone.”
Marcus made a ‘don’t-shoot-me’ gesture. “I’m on your side, mate, really I am. Trouble is, there’d be a backlash because you’re excluding people.”
“Couldn’t the world wear it for one day? It’s not proper discrimination. I saw something on Twitter the other week which was bad. A woman tried to book a cinema ticket online only she couldn’t because they insisted you book in pairs.”
“To make more money?”
“Reason they gave was they don’t like leaving gaps between seats because it means people miss out.”
“Single people still miss out, if they don’t want to buy two tickets.”
“I guess the argument is we don’t count. Because only couples go and see movies.”
Marcus laughed, deriding the remark, not its speaker. Or so Scott chose to think. Sometimes it was hard to tell what really mattered to Marcus he played it so cool.
“Ridiculous, isn’t it?” Marcus said. “I mean; can you think of anywhere better suited to a solo outing than a cinema?”
Scott knew them well. “Swimming pools when the lane ropes are up. Art galleries. Ice-skating rinks. Libraries.”
“Not libraries,” Marcus argued. “They’re social spaces.”
Scott said, “Can’t remember the last time I went into a library, so I guess that makes you right.” Yet again Marcus had the upper hand without investing any effort. Might as well surrender to the conversation to his ego. “So, back to Tuesday. Your first Valentine’s Day with Bree. How did you celebrate?”
Marcus took another contemplative sip. “I’m still at the thinking stage. With Deni it was simple. The kitschest card, the sparkliest gift, the best restaurant we could afford with a money-off voucher. All meant ironically, of course.”
Scott said, “I don’t think Bree goes in for irony.”
Did anyone, these days? The opposite of what people expected always happened, it was no longer a source of amusement. Oh, but maybe Marcus was the exception, determined to keep his own slant on life.
“What, because she’s Australian?” said Marcus.
Damn him, Marcus looked amused again. How did he manage to always be so chilled? Was it a London thing? The capital was all Scott had ever known. So why couldn’t he carry off that cosmopolitan cool?
Distractingly, Scott’s head suddenly filled with his conversation with Bree in the office three weeks ago. How he’d relished her company.
“No …” he faltered; he’d only wanted to contradict Marcus, but he now felt a powerful conviction. Was he about to actually suggesting that Marcus didn’t know his own girlfriend? And that he, Scott, might know better. Were the two friends about to fall out, over a girl, only not over her, perhaps. This was about something else … Their own friendship.
In trepidation, Scott retreated. “Just a hunch.”
“I think Bree is difficult to buy for,” said Marcus. “We exchanged cards, as you do, but maybe that’s it. We shouldn’t encourage consumerism, anyway. It’s a minefield. You survive Christmas, battle through January, then another year of forking out for token gifts begins.”
“I don’t mind Mother’s and Father’s Day,” Scott drew on personal experience, “because they let you make up for being a drain on your parents the rest of the year.”
Scott couldn’t believe how fired up he felt. Marcus didn’t deserve Bree. But how could Scott be a judge of that when he knew nothing of relationships? He barely knew anything about Bree. He just thought of her a lot.
Privately he thought: maybe there could be a more inclusive rationale for celebrating the 14th of February? What if you reserved fine dining and gift-giving for friends you really valued – those to whom you really wanted to show your respect – and ignored the others, leaving them to their takeaway suppers.
Where would Scott stand with Marcus in that scenario?
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