Part 8 – SEPTEMBER Two years later
There’s a note on the door of the flat when I get home from work. This isn’t unusual per se, but as a rule Leon and I try to confine our notes to the inside of our home. You know, so as not to advertise our peculiarities to the neighbours.
Warning: imminent romantic gesture.
(Be assured, it is very low-budget.)
I snort with laughter and turn the key in the door. The flat looks the same as ever: cluttered, multi-coloured, and just like home. It’s only when I go to chuck my bag down in the spot by the door that I see the next note on the wall there.
Step one: dress for adventure. Please assemble outfit from wardrobe.
I stare at the note, bemused. This is eccentric even by Leon’s standards. I shrug off my coat and scarf and leave them on the back of the sofa. (It’s a sofa-bed these days, which only just fits in our living room even once we sacrificed the telly, but no place will be home unless there’s a bed for Richie to stay in.)
On the inside of the wardrobe door, the note is folded over and stuck with Sellotape. On the outside, it reads:
Are you wearing something Tiffy-ish yet?
I mean, I am, but it’s a work outfit so there’s more of a nod to normality than usual (i.e. I’ve tried to make sure at least two items are not direct opposites on a colour wheel). I riffle through the wardrobe looking for something suitably ‘adventurous’, whatever that means.
I pause on the blue and white dress I bought a couple of years back. The one Leon calls my Famous Five dress. It’s a little impractical for a cold day, but with my thick grey tights and the yellow mac from Help the Aged . . .
Once dressed, I unstick the note from the wardrobe door and read the message inside.
Hello again. Bet you look beautiful.
You need to collect a few more things before you set off adventuring, if you don’t mind. The first is in the spot where we first met. (Don’t worry. It’s waterproof.)
I grin and head off to the bathroom, moving more quickly now. What exactly is Leon up to here? Where am I supposed to be going? Now I’ve got my adventuring dress on, the end-of-day work slump has lifted – probably Leon knew I’d feel better with something colourful on – and a fizzing giddy feeling is growing in my stomach.
Don’t read me yet, please.
The next thing you need is in the spot where we first kissed. (Well, not exact spot as sofa has changed. But please overlook this for the sake of the romantic gesture.)
It’s another envelope, tucked between the sofa cushions. This one reads open me, so I do as I’m told. Inside there is a train ticket from London to Brighton. I frown, completely flummoxed. Why Brighton? We’ve not been since before we were together, back when we were looking for Johnny White.
The note behind the ticket reads:
The last thing you need is with Bobby for safekeeping. He’s expecting you.
Bobby is the man we once knew as Strange Man in Flat 5. He’s a firm friend now, and has thankfully realised you cannot make cider from a banana and moved on to more conventional apple cider. It is very tasty and invariably gives me an extremely bad hangover.
I take the stairs two at a time and knock on his door, shifting impatiently from one foot to the other.
He answers in his favourite tracksuit bottoms (I sewed the hole up for him last year. It was getting indecent. I patched it up with a few inches of pink gingham I had lying about, though, so he definitely doesn’t look less strange).
‘Tiffany!’ he says, then shuffles off immediately, leaving me in the doorway. I crane my neck. Eventually he re-emerges holding a small cardboard box with a Post-it note stuck to it. ‘There you are!’ he says, and beams. ‘Off you go!’
‘Thanks?’ I say, examining the box.
It’s the most excruciating train journey I’ve ever taken. I’m itching with curiosity. I can hardly sit still. By the time I get to Brighton it’s dark, but it’s easy to find my way to the seafront; I walk so fast towards the pier that I’m almost jogging, which is something I only do in extreme circumstances, so I really must be excited.
I see what Leon means as soon as I get there. I couldn’t miss the spot.
There’s an armchair on the pebbles, thirty yards or so from the sea. It’s covered in multi-coloured blankets and strewn around it amongst the rocks there are dozens of tealights.
The note on the chair is weighed down with a large shell.
Sit, wrap up warm, and open the envelope when you’re ready. Then the box.
I rip off the clingfilm and tear the envelope open as soon as I’m sitting down. To my surprise it’s in Gerty’s handwriting.
Leon has enlisted me and Mo to help with this madcap scheme because he says you value our opinions. I suspect it is actually because he is a little afraid and doesn’t want to do this on his own. I won’t hold that against him, though. A bit of humility is good in a man.
Tiffany, we have never seen you as happy as you are now. That came from you – you built that happiness for yourself. But there is no shame in saying that Leon helped.
It’s your decision, of course, but he wanted you to know: he has our blessing.
Mo and Gerty x
P.S. He asked me to say that he didn’t ask your father’s permission, on account of that being ‘a bit archaic and patriarchal’, but he feels ‘fairly confident Brian is on board’.
My hands tremble as I reach for the cardboard box. The Sellotape takes an agonisingly long time to work loose, but when I manage to get the lid off I start crying in earnest.
And there’s one last note.
Tiffany Rose Moore of Flat 3, Madeira House, Stockwell,
Would you like to be my wife?
Take some time to think about it. If you want to see me, I’m at the Bunny Hop Inn, room 6.
I love you x
He’s waiting for me on the bed in room 6, sitting cross-legged, fidgeting. He’s nervous.
I take him at a flying leap. He lets out a happy sort of oof as I roll him back on to the bed.
‘Yes?’ he asks after a moment, pushing back my hair so he can look at my face.
‘Sure?’ he asks, pulling back to look at me properly.
‘It’s not too much?’
‘Bloody hell, Leon!’ I say, exasperated. I look around and reach for the hotel stationery on the bedside table.
Now it’s written down it is unequivocal and probably binding in a court of law although check with Gerty because I literally just made that up right now. xx
I wave the note under his nose so he gets the gist, then tuck it in the pocket of his shirt. He pulls me in and presses his lips to the crown of my head. I can feel that he’s doing one of those lopsided smiles, and it all seems too good, as if we can’t possibly deserve it, as if we’re taking too much happiness and not leaving enough for everyone else.
‘This is the bit where we turn on the telly and a nuclear war has started,’ I say, twisting to lie down next to him.
He smiles. ‘I don’t think so. Doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the happy thing just happens.’
‘Not sure what’s brought it on. Recent betrothal? Bright future? Love-of-life in arms? Hard to say.’
I chuckle, nuzzling into his chest, breathing him in. ‘You smell like home,’ I tell him after a moment.
‘You are home,’ he says simply. ‘The bed, the flat . . .’
‘It was never home until you were there, Tiffy.’