The air swelled with insects, as salmon fillets thawed in the south-facing sink of the Café. Nell smiled warmly as a familiar face seated itself opposite her and Sid at the table closest to the exit.
'Glad you could come! How long's it been?' she didn't wait for a response, 'Sid, this is Sam Kowalski, an old friend of mine. Sam, this is-'
'Yes, we've met before' Sam cut in, slightly abashed. They stored this information hurriedly for further reflection later: Kowalski involved, parents clueless. Sid cleared his throat, with a distinct lack of subtlety, before he spoke.
'Thing is, we're married', he noticed the same awkward expression flick across Sam's face, 'we're married, but we don't know why…' he finally articulated. Sam's face had changed in that instant- from calm embarrassment, to wild-eyed. He knew something- probably many things in fact- that they really ought to know. Problem was, the new mask of indecision and introversion that spanned Sam's face didn't look to be letting up at any point.
'We were wondering if you could give us any insight into our reasoning- that is, assuming you were involved' Nell started, leaning in unconsciously and lilting her tone with something of suspicion.
It was at that point, where the three had seemed to reach something of a deadlock, that a chirpy waitress approached, brandishing the laminated Specials list.
'And what can I get you three today?' she enquired, eyeing Nell up and down to determine her connection to the two men. Before she could explain the two-for-one deal on the Mediterranean breakfast, Sam had risen to his feet.
'I'm very sorry, you two, but I'd better be off, what with the time and the… well I'll see you round!' he gabbled, and without a second glance at either Nell or Sid, the bell above the door had chimed and he was half way down Main Street. Nell looked to Sid, and Sid looked to Nell, and together they asked,
'Could we have another minute to think?'.
They waited until the waitress had stalked away, clutching Sam's menu, before they spoke again.
'What exactly was he hiding?' Nell hissed. Sid didn't reply immediately, given the addition of four sugar cubes to his mouth.
'I don't know, but I know someone who might.' Sid dug around in his back pocket and pulled out a dusty yellow wine gum and an address book. He thumbed through the pages till he found the name he was looking for, and held it a few inches from her face triumphantly.
'It's Eric' Sid corrected, leaning round the table to gage the illegibility of his writing, 'He's my uncle and he's a priest. If we haven't gone and got married on a drunken all-nighter, then I guarantee I would've turned to him to do the ceremony. He'd have gone and got me a discount or something.'
'Well' Nell muttered, 'It's not often you get something that's both romantic and thrifty, but there you go. Guess I'd better congratulate on saving some money on what's meant to be the happiest day of our lives.' Sid narrowed his eyes in confusion,
'Have you forgotten that this was all one big misunderstanding? It wasn't the happiest day of our lives because we didn't know each other. I don't know how, but we ended up in this marriage by mistake-' He glanced at Nell while he paused to take a breath. When he saw her expression he stopped abruptly. On her face was a look of hopelessness. Sid had never been one for comforting words, but made a resounding effort here.
'Hey, look at me' he said softly, 'I know this hasn't turned out the way either of us had hoped, but we've got to make do with what we've got. As for our wedding, it doesn't matter if it wasn't romantic. Do you know why?'
'Because it's not the last time you'll be in a church, or registry office or whatever. You'll find someone you actually love someday, I guarantee it! Maybe right now we're stuck with each other, but things will change. People won't put up with this system when it doesn't work. Listen to me- every dog has its day, and you've not had yours yet'
'Are you calling me a dog?' she raised her voice so the elderly couple on the opposite side of the café shook heads disapprovingly.
'No! No. I'm just saying it's not the end, that's all I'm… look forget it-' he grabbed his address book, wine gum and complimentary sweater-vest and headed for the door. He felt a tug on his wrist. For one blissful moment he'd forgotten that the possibility of a dramatic exit was ruined, with less than a metre of chain keeping him in place. Nell stood to meet his gaze, her expression warm as before.
'I get what you mean' she smiled. She scanned the contents of Sid's hand with a curious eye. After a moment's thought, she grabbed the wine gum, dusted it off on her knee, swallowed it and turned to leave.
'So where does this Uncle Enc live then?'
'Eric, Uncle Eric. And he lives in Slough' Nell groaned bitterly,
'Why can't you have an uncle who lives somewhere like Polperro, or Torquay, or-'
'Quit complaining!' Sid interrupted with a chuckle.
By the time the waitress returned, ready to take orders from the two remaining customers sat by the door, she was surprised to find two empty seats. She sighed exasperatedly when she caught sight of the empty sugar cube bowl.