Four days later he was back in his own bed. I hadn’t left the hospital at all since he was admitted, mainly because I wanted to be around him “in case” but also because I wasn’t ready to go back to the house by myself. When he’d got the all clear, I helped him up the stairs and into bed.
‘Don’t you think I’ve spent enough time in bed this week?’
‘You need to rest. What would you like for dinner?’
‘Please, let me at least help,’ he pleaded. ‘Bed is boring unless you’re in it,’ he added, grabbed hold of me and pulled me down to him. I knelt down on either side of his hip and leaned down to kiss him, without putting pressure on his chest. He cupped my arse with his hands before letting his hands run down my back.
‘You literally died this week, don’t you think you should allow yourself some time to recover?’ He unbuttoned my jeans and forced them over my hips. ‘No?’
I sat up and unbuttoned my shirt. I knew that I probably shouldn’t give in – but considering he’d last stopped breathing when he was sleeping, I figured it wasn’t possible to calculate when it would happen next. Besides, he had been cleared for physical activity and even been recommended a certain amount of it. “Less than 1% of heart attacks happen during sex”, his doctor had said while looking at me.
The look on Alfredo’s face had been priceless as he just smiled heartily.
He flipped me onto my back and put his mouth on my naked skin. I pulled his t-shirt over his head and observed his physique; his tanned skin, his broad shoulders, his barrel chest, his curls… We took a moment to get rid of the rest of our clothes and I shifted him onto his back.
‘You don’t want to overdo it,’ I explained. ‘So just lie back, relax and let me do all the work.’
An hour later I was preparing fish and rice while Alfredo sat in a chair and kept me company. It was a compromise. He wanted to do all the cooking, I said he should learn to accept my help, he agreed as long as he could cut onions and herbs – I said “OK” as long as he sat down while doing it. I was about to finish up the sauce when the phone rang. Alfredo reached behind him and picked it up off the wall.
‘Cocozza residence, to whom am I speaking? Hold on a moment.’ He put the receiver against his chest and waved me over. ‘It’s Michael asking if this is where Maria Johnson lives. Is it?’
I was expecting to feel anxious or nervous, but instead I just nodded, pressed the loud speaker button on the base of the phone and rolled my eyes. ‘Hello?’
‘Was that him? Was that the senior citizen you’re shacking up with?’ His voice was high-pitched, confronting and slurring. ‘Yes, that’s right, Nadine told me she’d met this charmer in Hyde Park. I can’t believe you’ve moved on so fucking quickly!’
‘How is any of this your concern?’
‘You were my girlfriend for six years! That’s why it’s my concern!’
‘Were being the operative word. You engaged in a game of horizontal tandem yoga with my best friend and I moved on. I think we’re even. How did you find me?’
‘Nadine said you lived in Lennox Gardens so I’ve called around. I didn’t know you had daddy issues! How does it feel to fuck a geriatric?’
Alfredo snorted his water through his nose in amusement at the question.
‘I don’t and it feels outstanding. Was there anything else you wanted?’ Michael had nothing to add, just grunted, huffed and puffed. He had never been good with confrontations unless it contained screaming, shouting and swearing. ‘Goodbye, Mike.’
I hung up and went back to stirring the sauce. ‘What a prat.’
‘I’d say you handled that with dignity, but he does sound like a bit of a…’
‘Dickhead?’ I helped.
‘I was going to say “immature child” but I like yours better.’
‘Can you believe he’s called all of Lennox Gardens to find me? How sad is that?’
‘I can’t believe he asked what it’s like to, and I quote, “fuck a geriatric”,’ Alfredo chuckled. ‘Besides, I’m not officially geriatric until I’m 65. In another year.’
I laughed out loud at the bizarreness of it. ‘I love you. Geriatric or not.’
‘I love you, too. Even though you’re young,’ he winked.
I served up the food and moved us into the dining room. He looked like he wanted to say something, but that he changed his mind every time he was about to confess.
‘By the way, I’ve got an appointment in the morning that you don’t have to come to. It’s just ten minutes away so I’ll be fine.’
By “don’t have to” he meant “I don’t want you to come to” so I just confirmed – but that I expected him to have someone call me if something did happen. This was long before everyone had mobile phones in their pockets so it wasn’t a case of sending a message if something went wrong. He looked mildly excited, so I just figured I’d leave him to it and hope for the best.
The morning after he’d somehow managed to get out of bed and out of the house before I’d even woken up. He left a note on the mirror saying: “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by 11.” I looked at my watch and was even more surprised that it was 10:15. Then again, I hadn’t slept much in the past few days, so I probably needed to catch up. I got ready and found another note in the kitchen: “Open the oven.” Inside the oven was a frying pan with scrambled eggs and bacon that I could just put on the stove and reheat. It was still lukewarm, as was the water in the kettle, so he couldn’t have been gone too long. I was beginning to get curious about what he was doing out by himself that I couldn’t possibly go along to.
Five past eleven I heard him coming through the front door. I came to greet him and he had his winter coat and trilby hat on, looking handsome as usual.
‘Would you mind going into the drawing room and I’ll join you in a mere moment?’
I went in and stood by the window, where we’d finally given in to our desires for the first time, and just waited. It took him a few minutes, but when he came through the door I turned around and found him holding a red rose in his hand. He was dressed in a pinstriped suit and had dyed his hair back to its original black, his face was clean shaven, a combination that made him look like he was in his 40s. He came over and handed me the rose, and I could feel myself tearing up, even before he spoke. He planted a soft kiss on my mouth before taking both my hands in his.
‘I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life without you. I’m so grateful that we met, even under these circumstances. You’ve changed my whole existence and I wish I could give you the world, but I this ring was all I could afford,’ he said with a smile before kneeling down before me. ‘Maria Johnson… will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?’
I sobbed a reply that sounded something like “yes” and he put a beautiful ring on my finger. It was in white gold with half a dozen small diamonds in it. Tasteful and classic. It was perfect.