Janet Pywell ellie BravoElly and Maria share breakfast and conversation at the office.

It’s a sunny Monday morning and I am determined to make changes at work.

I am first in the office (that’s before Maria. Sometimes I think the geeks downstairs stay all night). I pour hot water over rich dark coffee in the new pot and heat milk. I’m not drinking the instant crap that Maria makes continually.

I have also brought croissants and buns. I find china cups at the back of the cupboard instead of thick porcelain mugs, and as I move around the kitchen I see Maria staring at me through the long pane of glass in the door. She looks trapped like a rabbit in the headlights of my gaze.

I beckon her inside.

“Spanish coffee,” I announce grandly like a magician, “and the croissants are a peace offering.”

Her mouth smiles but her eyes are wary.

“It’s time I stopped being an idiot and started to help,” I say.

Maria’s eyes widen and she raises a hand to her short hair as I continue speaking.

“You’re up here all on your own most of the time. It must be lonely.”

“I’m busy enough, doing all the accounts.”

“Cooking the books?”

“There’s not a lot to cook, believe me.” Her laughter is light but her eyes don’t smile. “And it will be tougher now since the ZenFitness deal fell through.”

I place two cups on the small bistro table and sit down. “Ah yes. Simon did tell me about that. Is John disappointed?”

“He’s probably angry more than anything else. I’d say he’s also embarrassed. You were right about getting a contract signed.” Maria sits opposite me.

I shrug.

“Lovely coffee,” she says, her eyes begin to thaw.

“Everything tastes better when someone makes it for you.”

She sighs and gazes out of the window and it makes me think I hit a nerve.

“Breakfast?” I nudge the croissants toward her.

She speaks softly, “Thank you. Do you like living here?”

“I’m exploring. I was at Crawfordsburn National Park over the weekend, and I walked along the coastal path. It’s beautiful.”

“You must go to The Giant’s Causeway on the north coast.”

“It’s on my, ‘to-do list,” I smile. “I love living in Holywood; it’s full of small boutiques and coffee shops. I’m staying with my Auntie Annie. She married a Belfast man but my grandmother was from Dublin.” I sip coffee and hesitate.

Maria pulls a croissant apart before placing it in her mouth.

I continue speaking, “Grandma came to live with us in London when I was twelve but six months after she moved in my father found the perfect excuse to return to Spain. On his own. He’s a doctor.” I don’t know why I am telling her about my parent’s separation.

“Is that why you have olive skin and dark hair.”

I nod. “That’s from my father. The blue eyes are from the Irish side of the family.”

“You don’t have children? You never married?”

“Er, no. I’m not old enough yet.” I joke, (we are about the same age). I reach up and tuck the escaping tendrils of my hair into a bulldog clip on the back of my head. I don’t know why I don’t tell her the truth. Why don’t I just tell her I’m gay? “I’m probably too immature,” I add.

“It’s not for everyone.” Maria refills her cup and stands up.

“I’d love a daughter like Lily though. She’s very interesting.” I don’t want Maria to leave and go back to her office. I want to keep talking to her.

She puts her free hand on the door handle.

“No, you wouldn’t. She can be a little horror!” This time her smile reaches her eyes but she changes the subject and her voice turns serious. “Are you getting computer classes from Stuart?” I shake my head. “You should speak to him. You’ll learn a lot,” she hesitates. “Thanks for the coffee and croissants, and don’t let John annoy you. He doesn’t mean any harm. He’s like a soft puppy underneath it all.”

“One with rabies?” I ask.

She giggles.