Boxo Whatley lives a charmed life. No doubt about it. He even wears a silver ‘Charmed Life’ pendant round his neck that he likes to show to disbelievers. This is usually met with scowls and taunts of, ‘Yer daft, Boxo.’ He thinks this is quite humorous and beams with delight.
I bumped into Boxo in a bookshop in Piccadilly. We were reaching for the latest Nick Hornby but since Boxo is 6’4”, he had the advantage over me. I scowled up at him. I was drenched from walking in the rain and he appeared quite dry. ‘Oh, were you wanting this?’ he asked and held the paperback out to me. Boxo is undeniably handsome and I knew his sort at once; accustomed to getting what they want. I wanted to curl my lip at him and show him I wasn’t going to be taken in by his charm.
‘Well, yes.’ I admitted and by the glint of mischief in his eye, I thought he’d say something cheeky and wander off with the book, leaving me red-faced and furious.
‘It’s yours.’ He offered me the book. He leaned his slim frame against the bookcase, ankles crossed and smiled. Something about him made me think he would pull it out of my grasp should I attempt to take it.
‘No. No really. You got it fair and square.’ I turned away.
‘Fair and square?’ he chuckled.
I turned back to him. What was he on about? I wasn’t the sort of woman who expected men to hold doors open or pull out chairs in restaurants. I certainly didn’t expect him to hand over the book simply because of my femaleness. ‘Yes. That’s what I said. You reached it before I could. It’s yours.’
‘But I’m a good foot taller than you. How fair is that?’ He held the book out towards me.
I cocked my head and sucked my teeth at him. It wasn’t that I minded him pointing out my shortness, I just wasn’t in the mood for any sort of philosophical debate; especially from a man whom I discerned to think he had all the answers.
‘Them’s the breaks,’ I said and shrugged.
‘Please take it.’ He pushed it toward me. ‘They’ll certainly be getting in more.’
I squinted at him, trying to figure him out. ‘That’s very kind of you –‘
‘My pleasure. Whatley. Boxo Whatley,’ he said it the way James Bond introduces himself and extended his hand. I had to smile.
‘Cole. Em Cole.’ I shook his hand.
‘Em as in short-for-Emily or simply the letter?’
He smiled and nodded. ‘You look like you could murder a cup of coffee.’
‘I don’t drink coffee,’ I informed him, ignoring the book between us. ‘Political statement?’
‘No. I just don’t like it.’
‘Tea then? Do you drink tea?’
I nodded and smiled. I couldn’t help myself. This Boxo Whatley was too charming for words. But, for the life of me, I could not accept the notion he was asking me out for a tea. ‘Great,’ he said and slipped a languid arm round my damp shoulders. He guided me toward the door, stopped and went behind the till. ‘Taking my break, Geoff,’ he told the cashier and retrieved a large black umbrella. He held open the door for me and popped open the umbrella above my head.
‘You work here?’
‘Yes. Well, sort of.’ He walked close beside me as we headed to the milk bar up the street.
‘Until you’re discovered by a modeling agent or film agent, I thought. ‘So you weren’t wanting the Hornby book?’
‘Putting it back on the shelf?’
He smiled. I laughed.
We stepped inside the dark wood eatery and Boxo shook out the umbrella before snapping it shut.
‘Boxo! Good to see you, mate,’ the man behind the counter greeted him.
Boxo smiled and nodded. ‘Alright, Nige?’ He helped me off with my coat and hung it by the door. ‘Two teas, please, Brenda,’ he said to the waitress as we slid into a booth. I was impressed he knew their names and they knew him. I’d worked in the area for years and didn’t know the name of anyone outside of my office.
We talked casually through two cups of tea each and a basket of chips. As we got up to leave Boxo asked me out to the pictures for that Saturday. I knew it wasn’t a date-date. I knew we were going to be friends. It wasn’t that I didn’t find him attractive – Boxo’s handsome enough, interesting, entertaining – but I’m older than him by about 10 years though he swears I’m lying – and I knew should anything of a romantic nature start, it wouldn’t last. And I’d rather have Boxo as a friend for life, than a short-lived fling.
It wasn’t until I got on the Underground that I discovered the Hornby paperback in my coat pocket. I smiled and shook my head. I rang the shop when I got to my flat and asked for Boxo.
‘You,’ I said when I heard his ‘Hallo?’ down the line.
‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ I whispered.
‘Done what?’ His feigning innocence was charming.
‘The book,’ I whispered.
‘Why are you whispering, Em?’
‘You could get in trouble.’
‘Are you going to tell me Trouble is your middle name?’
‘No, actually. It’s Marvin.’
‘Marvin is my middle name.’
I cringed. ‘Oh, Boxo, I’m sorry. I thought you were joking.’
‘Ah, would that I were, love. My parents’ joke, you see. Boxo Marvin Whatley.’
I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing.
I composed myself. ‘Yes.’
‘Were you suppressing a laugh just then?’
‘No. Of course not.’
‘Liar. See you Saturday.’ He rang off. It wasn’t until weeks later that Boxo confessed he doesn’t work in the book shop, he owns it.
‘How’s your cyber pal?’ Boxo asked as he sprawled on my sofa.
‘Phht,’ I said and held up my hands.
‘Oh, Em. Sorry love. Sounded like you two were onto something there.’
‘Yeah, well…’ I shrugged.
Boxo was intuitive enough to realise the demise of my internet correspondence wasn’t my decision. ‘He’s a fool.’ I knew Boxo would take my part. I also knew he wouldn’t lecture me on the folly of trying to find a mate online. ‘Married?’
‘No.’ I shook my head. ‘Well, could be for all I know. But I doubt it. ‘He said he thought I was overly fond of him.’
Boxo frowned. I’d told him all about my three-month chatting with Malcolm. I’d shown him photos of Malcolm and he’d merely sniffed at them.
‘And he said he was very fond of me, adored me, enjoyed our chats and my wonderful sense of the ridiculous and that I’m lovely, blah blah.’
Boxo’s frown deepened. I shrugged.
‘Yes, well, I can see why he’d want to cut it off then.’ He shook his head. ‘Wanker.’
I pursed my lips and paced, the coffee table separating us.
I stopped pacing and gazed at him. ‘That’s it? That’s your explanation?’
Boxo sat up and put his feet on the floor. He stalled for time by sipping his tea and relacing a shoe. He looked up at me and gave a weak smile.
‘What? Tell me, Boxo. I need to know.’
‘Well, how would I know, darling? It could be a number of things. Oh, don’t give me that look. I mean, he could be married and she put an end to it.’
‘I don’t think so. I mean we chatted nearly every night for at least two hours. Sometimes for up to five hours.’
‘Yes, well…I’m not saying he is. I’m simply suggesting it’s a possibility. Perhaps the missus worked nights.’ He saw my face and looked sad for me. ‘Oh, Em.’
‘Well, don’t I feel the fool.’ I blew out my cheeks and sat on the coffee table.
‘Don’t. Don’t do this to yourself. He’s not worth it. Some men are…well, incapable of taking things to the next…erm…level.’
I chewed my lip and watched him; waiting for more of an explanation. Instead, he looked over my shoulder at the window.
After a few minutes of watching him watch the window I cleared my throat. His eyes shifted to mine. ‘That’s it?’
‘Oh, Em, love, I don’t know. Do you know how all females think?’
‘Well, you can’t expect me to understand the thought process of some bloke I’ve never met.’ He didn’t intend to wound me with that remark. But since Malcolm and I had never met in person, it stung. He leaned forward and touched my arm. ‘Enjoy it for what it was. You had a few laughs and it’s over.’ He sat back and crossed his ankles on the coffee table.
‘Thanks, Boxo. You’re really cheering me up.’
‘I thought you wanted an explanation.’ He looked pained.
‘I did. Do.’ I scratched my head. ‘I guess that’s all there is to it. Just chalk it up to him …what was it, not wanting to go to the next level?’
‘Em, I’m the last person to ask about ‘relationships’.’ I swatted at his hands for having made quotation marks with his fingers. We both agreed we hated it when people did that, and gave each other the right to swat us when we slipped up.
‘But you’ve had relationships. Why did you break them off?’
His eyes widened and he smiled at me. ‘Why do you presume I broke them off?’
A blush warmed my cheeks. ‘Sorry.’ I hung my head. We’d made a pact we wouldn’t flatter each other and give each other swelled heads. It would only serve to work against us in the real world.
‘If you must know, I did break off some. But it’s not always for the same reason, of course.’
‘Well, no. Of course not. That would be…well, ridiculous.’ Boxo had told me he was no longer dating Susan, his latest girlfriend, but he hadn’t said why. Naturally, I was curious and thought our friendship could bear me asking. ‘What happened with you and Susan?’ I asked gently.
‘I broke that one off. She clipped her toenails.’
I let his statement sink in. I squinted at him.
‘In front of me.’
I scrunched my nose. I’d never clipped my toenails in front of a boyfriend but if I had, I wouldn’t have thought it would have been grounds for a break up.
‘In front of me, Em.’
I nodded. ‘Yes. So you said.’
‘That’s just not on.’
I thought back over some of my written conversations with Malcolm and wondered perhaps I’d committed a similar offence that was cause enough for him to want to discontinue our chats. I glanced at Boxo and saw him looking at me.
‘You’ll meet someone, Em. In person. Someone who will appreciate you for the gem that you are. Sorry,’ he added, realising he’d broken our non-complimenting rule.
He smiled. ‘Let’s get something to eat, eh? I’m starving.’ He stood up and got his coat.
‘Just don’t walk too close to me,’ I said and got my jacket.
He stopped in mid-button. ‘Upset with me?’
‘No. It’s just that people might think we’re together.’
‘But we are together.’
‘Not that kind of together. And no man would dare approach me if he thought I was with you.’ I winked at him.
He gazed at his shoes for a moment then lifted his head. ‘You did it again, you know.’