It’s amazing how quickly things can hot up, and romantic fortunes can flip like a well-cooked pancake!
“So, did you go out for Valentine’s Day? I don’t suppose it’s that easy, is it, at the moment?” Judith asked, her eyes sparkling.
Suzie smiled, and put the last of the returned books in their allotted places on the library shelves.
There was no need to reply. Judith was clearly dying to talk about her own Valentine’s date, which she proceeded to do, at some length, following Suzie back to the main desk.
Suzie didn’t say that today was always the big event in their household – Pancake Tuesday.
She thought back to this time three years ago – how quickly it had passed! – and smiled again.
She’d been a junior librarian then, and she remembered she’d been making pancake batter, before coming to work for her afternoon shift.
It all came flooding back.
She was stirring a jug of batter. She pursed her lips. She must be mad. What on earth was she making pancake batter for when she ought to be on her way to work?
She could hear ‘Madame’ in her head telling her sternly that the pancakes were always finer if the batter had rested. And it would certainly have rested by the time she got home.
But, more to the point, who was she making them for?
There would only be her to eat them.
The previous year – and for the nine years before that – she’d made them for Gary.
Until six months ago, when he’d decided he didn’t love her any more and had left, with all of ten minutes’ notice.
She picked the jug up, on the point of throwing away the newly made batter, then stopped.
She couldn’t do it. It was Shrove Tuesday. It was traditional.
It would be too wasteful. And wasn’t eating pancakes supposed to be a way of avoiding waste?
Somewhere in her past she’d been told that housewives made pancakes to use up the milk, butter and eggs before Lent began.
She’d never understood it. The batter – the amount most people made – only used one egg. How was that going to help get rid of a glut?
Still pondering on this, Suzie put the batter in the fridge and gathered up her keys and her bag, then glanced at her watch.
She’d be a few minutes late, so what? Her boss had been over an hour late yesterday, and had smiled sheepishly and told her – in gruesome detail – about her new boyfriend. Tactful, or what?
She left the house still thinking about pancakes – the ultimate comfort food – and about the Frenchwoman who’d taught her to make them. She could still hear Madame’s instructions, telling her to add just a soupçon of water to make the crêpes thin and light and lacy.
Suzie had practised until at last Madame was satisfied, calling Suzie her little crêpe Suzette.
A screech of brakes brought Suzie back to the real world with a bang. Literally.
She’d stepped back on to the kerb so fast that she’d hit her head on the traffic light pole. The pole which held the button she should have pushed, and crossed safely.
She glanced up at the blazing pedestrian red light. What had she been thinking of? She walked this route every day…
“What the…?” A man had stopped a few yards beyond the lights and jumped out of his car. He was now glaring at her. “You stepped out right in front of me! You could have been killed!”
Suzie had just reached this conclusion herself, and her legs turned to jelly.
The man’s glare turned to concern, and he caught her as her knees buckled.
“Right. In the car. I’m taking you to A&E. Is this your bag?”
Suzie nodded dumbly. She hadn’t even realised she’d dropped it.
By the time he had driven the short way to the hospital she had begun to shake.
“I’m all right, really,” she said for the tenth time. “I’m really sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking of.
“I’m sure I don’t need A&E, you can just drop me here. You’ve been really kind, but I’ll be fine…”
He looked at her and smiled for the first time. Her heart gave a lurch. But that was just shock, she told herself firmly.
“I’ll be perfectly OK,” she started again.
“I’ll be fine in a minute, if you’d just like to drop me…”
He was still smiling.
“Listen. You’re positively babbling. And any bang on the head should be looked at. You’re going to A&E.”
She watched as he sailed past the visitors’ car park and nosed into a space near the entrance clearly marked Doctors Only.
She opened her mouth, but he forestalled her.
“You needn’t worry, I work here. I’m a doctor. My name’s James by the way. And I’m coming into A&E with you.”
He frowned. “We haven’t met before, have we? You look familiar.”
Suzie smiled. Was it a very unoriginal chat-up line, or was she reading signs that weren’t there?
“Well, I don’t live very far away. And I work in the library…”
They had reached the reception desk in the A&E department.
The receptionist, who had been looking bored, almost jumped to attention when she saw James, and started taking down Suzie’s details in a flurry of efficiency.
“This is Suzie…?”
“Periwinkle,” Suzie filled in.
James and the receptionist looked at her, surprised.
“Unusual,” James said slowly, but the receptionist was already asking for Suzie’s address.
“Well, I’d better go,” James said. “I’ve got a clinic. But I hope I’ll see you later.
“I’ll phone the library for you, shall I? Tell them you’re not coming in?”
It was hours later when a nurse finally said Suzie was fit enough to leave, but James strode up to them at that moment, and insisted that Suzie couldn’t walk home alone.
And so for the second time that day Suzie found herself in his car, but this time conscious of just how tall – and devastatingly good-looking – he was.
He didn’t ask where she lived – she supposed he’d heard her address in the hospital.
“I realised this afternoon why you looked familiar,” he said as he stopped at some traffic lights.
“You were Gary Periwinkle’s girlfriend. He was a flatmate when I was in my final year at med school.
“He didn’t stay long, but you came to the flat once or twice, and I remember you.
“I was quite smitten but you’d only got eyes for Gary. You’re married now, I gather,” he added ruefully.
“We were. Still are, technically. The divorce isn’t quite final yet.”
She looked at James, her head on one side. “I didn’t recognise you with short hair. Sorry.”
He parked in the only available space, a few yards from her house.
It was almost six. Should she ask him in? Had she got anything she could offer him to drink? Should she offer him something to eat?
Suzie thought in despair of her almost empty fridge. She could hardly admit to a doctor that she’d been planning an unhealthy pancake-fest for supper.
“Won’t you come in and have a cup of tea?” she ventured.
“I’d love to, thank you,” James said, sounding sincere.
Suzie got out of the car, but stopped dead and turned to James.
“That’s Gary’s car,” she said, indicating a car right outside her house.
Her heart sank. Only a few months ago she would have leapt at the chance of seeing him again, but now…
Before she could say anything, though, Gary had climbed out of the car and was standing in front of her, beaming.
“Suzie. Angel. I thought you’d get home about now. Afternoon shift, right?” He smiled sheepishly. “I haven’t forgotten, see?”
He bent forward to kiss her on the cheek, but she stepped back.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I thought it was time to let bygones be bygones, OK?
“And I couldn’t let you make pancakes all by yourself, could I,” he said, heading automatically for her front door.
“We can still be friends, can’t we?” he continued in a wheedling voice, making Suzie wonder whether his latest girlfriend – and there had been several – had walked out.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me in, babe?”
Then Gary spotted James.
“OK, well, I’d better be going,” James said after a second’s pause. “Will you be OK now, Suzie?”
“Don’t go!” she muttered urgently, making no move to open the door.
“Of course she’ll be OK!” Gary growled, his temper flaring instantly. Then he did a double-take as he recognised James. “And what are you doing here?”
It took all of two minutes for Gary to go from pleading with Suzie to give him another chance, to hurling insults at her.
But as quickly as his temper had roared into life, it left him again, and he pushed his way past Suzie and James and headed back to his car.
“You always did fancy him,” he shouted vindictively over his shoulder, and he drove off, the engine roaring.
James and Suzie stood together in silence for a moment.
“You’re having quite a day, aren’t you?” James said gently, taking her hand and smiling.
“I would have suggested going out to dinner, but I think maybe you’ve had enough for one day.
So tomorrow, maybe? Can I take you for a drink, at least?”
“I think there’s a bottle of wine in the fridge,” Suzie said, feeling rather numb.
“I meant to go shopping on my way home from work… so I can’t offer you anything to eat, I’m afraid.
“Unless… I don’t suppose you like pancakes?”
The pancakes were wonderful. Suzie had forgotten how much fun it was to cook with someone else.
Soon the pancake making was underway.
James looked on in amazement as Suzie juggled the three frying pans.
She could, as ever, hear Madame’s instructions in her head, and she found herself repeating them to him as he opened the wine and poured two glasses.
“The pans have to be really hot,” she told him. “And then you just wipe a little bit of butter round.”
Suzie put a small amount of batter into the pan and swirled it around rapidly before putting it back on the heat.
Then she did the same with the second pan, and then the third.
Then she tossed them all, put the finished crepes on a board and repeated the whole process over and over again.
“And he left you? When you’re so beautiful and intelligent and can cook like this?” James asked in amazement. “He always was an idiot.”
Suzie was pretty sure it was the wine talking – she had, after all, not demonstrated a grain of intelligence all day – but it was a long time since a man had paid her a compliment, and she smiled.
Smiled properly. For the first time in several months.
Things had gone on from there with gratifying speed.
But Judith was speaking again, and Suzie’s mind lurched back to the present.
Judith was looking at her expectantly, but Suzie looked blankly back. She hadn’t got a clue what her colleague had said.
She was saved by a woman coming to the desk to pay the fine on an overdue book.
Suzie took the money and turned back to Judith.
“Is this what they call maternal amnesia?” Judith asked, eyeing Suzie’s enormous bump and laughing. “I asked when your due date was.”
“Any minute now,” Suzie said happily, cradling her bump. “Like that lady’s book, we’re a day overdue.”