If I’m going to tell you this story, I’m going to need a cigarette.
I’ve been through Paddington station a thousand times. Probably more, really. But only one time did it ever matter.
You have to understand, I was young, I was stupid, as most men are in their twenties. Full of vitality, ambition, promise for the future.
It was at one of those parties, though. You know, the kind you go to in your twenties, friend of a friend that you know to talk to, enough that they remember what your name sounds like, and no-one minds because you brought drinks.
In hindsight she should have been a red flag: standing alone in the corner, watching – no, surveying the room. Lord of all she surveys. The sort who once her mind was made up, nothing on earth could change it.
That night she hadn’t been interested in me. I didn’t do the cheesy pick-up lines, but we made some small talk about people we had loosely in common, then she excused herself to get a refill. I didn’t see her for the rest of the night.
A few weeks later, though, she found me at another of these non-descript parties, and something had changed. She was more… her. I was more… me. As though someone had turned the contrast up on us. If I’d had to pick one word to describe Suzanne, I’d go with ‘fearless’, but in that moment, fearless was hopelessly inadequate; she was fearsome, indomitable, insatiable.
Something about her made me try the nearest I had to a pick-up line: asking if anyone had ever tried the James Bond thing of unzipping a dress with a magnet to see if it worked. She snorted laughing into her drink, and asked if I had one on me to try it out.
The rest of the evening blurred and we ended up, all on our own, in a very loud and exceedingly private party.
The next few years… we still had separate lives but we gradually grew closer. We’d play with fire, get burned, laugh like loons the next morning over it. After the first few we’d admit that it was a mistake, we’d agree to take a break – until the next time, when we’d make the mistakes all over again. Every damn time.
Ahh, she was worth it, and I guess she thought I was too. That woman knew how to make me feel like she did, like I could take on anything. And I came to understand her armour, that fearlessness, wasn’t really all-encompassing: every time she came apart at the seams holding everything in, I’d put her back together.
She was the wind beneath my wings, I was the fuel to her flame. So we endured.
It was, though, not to last. Just thinking about her… damn, need another cigarette.
I remember the phone call. Everything’s very different now, of course, the screen tells you who’s calling, but then… there was just ringing and a few seconds’ pause holding both infinite optimism, and eternal despair.
I’d answered, she said, “It’s me.” I’d heard those two words so many times, she could say them but somehow mean entire paragraphs just with her tone. This time was different.
“That place called. They want me to go out there.”
She’d told me before about this big corporate in America. Something about marketing, she said. We’d always left work at the door when together, so I didn’t really know much. But she’d told me about their calls, how they’d made her an offer.
I remember the awkwardness of not knowing what to say. “I said yes.”
Words wouldn’t come. “You there?”
“Yes,” I’d finally found a voice, “I’m here. Just… congratulations!”
There was a pause. “You could come with me.”
I’ll never forget that sentence. The Devil himself couldn’t have made me a better deal. And the Devil didn’t purr like Suzanne.
But the absence of words on my part said more than any actual sounds could.
“I’m going Saturday. I’ll be leaving Paddington at four for Heathrow.” All warmth had left her voice. Just the click and dial tone.
This was totally Suzanne: she was going and nothing on earth would stop her. If the planes all cancelled she’d probably go make a raft and start paddling.
It wasn’t even that I didn’t want her to go; opportunities like this only came around once, if ever. I couldn’t hold her back – not that she’d let me.
Saturday was a few days away. I was restless, hovering by the phone in case Suzanne called, but met only silence.
So I packed a modest suitcase – shirts, trousers, good shoes, and I made my way to Paddington station.
It’s a familiar thing to be going somewhere. It is, however, entirely different going to the station, to go somewhere. Different, entirely unfamiliar.
My feet knew what they were doing, though, and I soon found myself on the platform, waiting. I started wondering if I’d missed Suzanne somehow between the noise of the concourse and the hubbub of people milling around.
Then I spotted her, she’d missed me in the crowd, but she got on, slamming the door behind her. Something must have sparked, though, because she turned, rolled the window down and looked out.
“Suzanne!” Her eyes were darting, looking for the source of my voice.
I ran across the platform, suitcase bouncing along at my side.
“Suzanne!” She smiled. I’d seen it too many times. Indomitability on the outside… and a broken heart on the inside.
Pushing the window down, she leaned out, grabbed me and gave me the most intense snog.
I opened the door. Our eyes met, then interrupted by the guard’s whistle, and some indistinct shouting.
She looked back, then slammed the door shut.
The guard’s whistle blew again.
That was the last I saw of Suzanne, her face in the window gradually disappearing out of view.
I even still have the magnet we’d tried that night.