It felt like every single set of eyes was on him as he walked through the town centre; as though everybody knew that he had a girlfriend and he was going to meet another woman for coffee without her knowledge. What a bad man!
Niall saw the café up ahead and stopped. He was nervous. Three and a half years! It was a woman who’d snuck her way into his heart so quickly and he was scared of it happening again.
No! That wouldn’t happen. He loved Claire. This was just a case of tying up loose ends so that he could finally move on fully. He’d be even freer to love Claire completely after this.
He began walking again towards the café and entered. He looked around. Had she arrived yet? He couldn’t see her. Stepping further inside, he caught sight of a woman sat alone with her back turned. Could it have been—
He started and spun around; the colour draining from his face. It was Chantelle. He felt silly as she looked at him with mirth in her big, blue eyes. They most certainly hadn’t changed! “Needless to say I almost shat myself then!”
Chantelle laughed loudly; causing people to turn and look at her. Now it was her turn to feel silly.
“It’s… it’s good to see you,” Niall muttered awkwardly.
He was in two minds whether to give her a cursory hug, ultimately deciding against. “Shall we sit down?” He gestured towards an empty table.
They both went over to it and sat on either side. Niall studied her face. She looked the same and different simultaneously. There seemed a lot more wisdom and maturity about her, though her eyes still glinted with the same flirtatious mischief, her full lips still naturally arched upwards at the corners, and she still possessed the beauty that had beguiled him from their very first meeting. He wondered what her first thoughts were on seeing him again. That desire to be found attractive by her had apparently gone nowhere.
Chantelle leaned over on her elbows; unintentionally displaying the cleavage of her voluptuous breasts. “How are you?” she asked softly.
“I’m good. Yeah, things are… well, they’re great actually. I’m an office manager these days; all terribly important and boring crap! The pay makes it worth the while though.” Niall was about to say something about Claire, then just as quickly changed his mind. He decided he’d wait to be asked. “I have my own flat in the city. I really can’t complain. How about you? I guess you found a sitter for your daughter?”
“I did, yeah. Luckily, I have friends who love looking after her. My mum and dad too.”
“Is that how you’re still able to be such a party animal?”
“I’m hardly a party animal,” Chantelle said defensively.
“I… I wasn’t suggesting… I just meant that… your pictures on Facebook—”
“They’re the only pictures I really put up as it’s the only time I look half-decent, as you can see from the way I look today!”
“You look absolutely… uhm…” Niall’s pulse raced. He couldn’t recall ever feeling so edgy. Everything was coming out wrong. Chantelle’s mere presence had ruffled his feathers greatly.
Chantelle looked adoringly at him. “Whatever you were about to say, thank you for it. I’ve really missed your kindness. There are so few men out there who possess it.”
“I have a girlfriend,” Niall blurted out. He shook his head in despair at how uncouth he was coming across. Any élan he’d walked into the café with was long gone now.
“I know you do,” Chantelle replied guardedly. “You aren’t the only one who’s looked at the other’s Facebook profile. She’s really pretty.”
“Look, Chan, I didn’t want to meet up to discuss life. I wanted to bring closure to our situation. We never got it after we broke up and I felt it’d be better if we did it in person rather than via text.” Niall felt a huge weight lift just from getting that off his chest.
A smile appeared on Chantelle’s lips that wasn’t reflected in her eyes. “Yes. Closure would probably be ideal. The truth is…” she trailed off.
“The truth is what?”
“I don’t know if I should say.”
“I definitely think you should,” Niall urged.
Chantelle gulped and a worried look crossed over her. She looked at Niall with honesty written on her face. “I never got over you, Niall. All this time I’ve been looking for another you and there just isn’t one. I miss you. I…” She breathed in and out deeply. “I love you. I always have.”
Nausea swept over Niall like a tsunami. Whatever he’d been expecting from this meeting was a million miles from what was happening. “This… this isn’t…”
“Niall, I don’t expect a big reaction. I know your situation and that you’re happy with your girlfriend. I don’t want to cause any problems. I just wanted to be honest. I never was when we were together and I’m paying for it now.”
“Chantelle, you can’t—”
The waitress came over at that opportune moment. “What can I get you guys?”
“Please!” Niall spat irritably. “Please… could you give us just a couple more minutes?”
The offended glance from the waitress told that she hadn’t been impressed with Niall’s tone of voice and she stormed away with a purpose.
Niall levelled his gaze on Chantelle again. “After all this time, after all the tears I cried over you, after craving your attention for so long… you choose now to tell me that you love me?”
“I didn’t choose now, Niall! I wasn’t going to tell you at all. I just figured we were going to be honest with each other. I thought that was what closure was.”
“It is! It is. I just… wasn’t expecting you to…”
“Look, let’s just forget I said it, okay? I’m sorry. I didn’t want to upset you. Just tell me what you were going to say and we can leave it at that.”
Niall rubbed his face vigorously with both hands. He’d started to sweat and he could feel the blood pumping through his veins. “No. I can’t. I can’t!” He stood from his seat and quickly walked out of the café.
Chantelle sat for a moment feeling totally bemused. Then she snapped into reality and a flash of anger passed through her. “Oh no you don’t, Mr. O’Shaughnessy,” she muttered through gritted teeth as she stood and made her way out of the café after him.
TO BE CONTINUED
Title image from Shine Aloud.