“Just over there”. She pointed to a break in the ash trees, wide enough to show a flash of grey water. I edged the car as close as possible to the lake and cut the engine, turning beatifically to receive praise for my parking manoeuvre, which she duly delivered with a warm smile and an absent-minded pat on my hand still resting on the gear stick.
She wore a red dress dotted with small white flowers, her feet encased in burnt orange espadrilles.
“Our last ride.”
“Our last ride” I echoed, looking out over the water. It felt insensitive to admit as much out loud - in the very presence of the car we had disloyally photographed and listed on a site earlier that day. The ice breaker of our first meeting, the backdrop to long meandering drives along the South coast, the destination of many a delivery driver dispatched to cater our date nights as we parked up in a pretty meadow or scenic clifftop.
I’d seen her first in a pub in Hemel Hempstead, elbows leant on the bar, face hidden by a curtain of blonde hair. She didn’t oblige me by turning, and as the seconds slid by, I came to feel intrusive – a creep in the shadows.
Later, as we piled out of the pub into the lane, a giddiness shot through me as I saw her again, leaning down to look at a BMW convertible. My BMW convertible. As she examined the interiors through the open roof, shading her eyes against the golden hour light of the evening, I revelled in catching her snooping - as I had been. She straightened as I approached. My hunch had been right: she was beautiful.
I was disappointed that she didn’t seem flustered, and for a second, I wondered at that, the flash of desire to see her discomfited, at a disadvantage.
“It’s a 420i, 2 litre.” I said, hearing the pride in my voice and immediately raking her face for disdain at my smugness.
“Yes, 181 horse-power. I’ve never seen a grey one. Is it a four-wheel drive?”
“Hm. Yes?” She raised an eyebrow at my hesitation, one hand leaning confidently, possessively on the bonnet.
“OK, I don’t know.” I admitted, hoping that a self-deprecating smile would come across endearing rather than imbecilic. “But if you like cars, we could go for a drive? Next week?” She looked at me silently for a moment, assessing, and then turned to the car, which I’d secretly, craply, nicknamed ‘The Babe Magnet’. I held my breath and overrode a lifetime of agnosticism to pray to an indistinct omniscient being to grant me a date with this woman.
“Alright.” She said finally, still leaning on the paintwork as self-assuredly as if she’d known already that she had taken possession of both the car and my heart in one conversation - and would keep them both for the next five years.
“You do realise that once we get rid of the Babe Magnet, I’ll be off like a shot, right?” She said now, jolting me with the idea that our memories were running in parallel as we sat still in the soft leather front seats.
I put one hand on the door handle in readiness to switch places, resting the other lightly on her distended stomach.
“Hey, the Babe Magnet has more than done its job at this point. Time to get a car with a roof.”