Janet Pywell ellie BravoThe cinema is my true love. The magic of the big screen, the colours, sounds and the vitality of other people’s lives absorbs me like no other. I can step into the screen and disappear into another world…

Lily sits between us stuffing handfuls of popcorn greedily into her mouth. She is thoroughly engrossed with the film and over her head, my eyes occasionally meet Maria’s and we smile.

I try to ignore the tingling in my skin and have serious conversations with myself in my head.

I am playing with fire. Never to get involved with a straight woman. It only leads to heartbreak.

After the film, Lily pulls us in the direction of the Indian restaurant.

“Charlie’s Dad brought her here with his girlfriend and Charlie said it was one of the best meals ever.”

“It must be good then,” I say, and Lily nods seriously.

On the restaurant, wall is pictures of idyllic beaches in the Indian Ocean with long sandy beaches, drooping coconut branches over a lapping turquoise sea and thatched huts hidden in colourful tropical gardens.

I imagine the sun on my skin and Maria in the sea, her hair wet, eyes laughing, gleaming tanned–

“What are you thinking?” She leans toward me. “You have a very naughty smile on your face.”

I blush. I laugh too loudly and gaze down at the menu. “I was just wondering how hot the curry would be.”

“I don’t think so,” Maria laughs. “You were staring at the pictures.”

And for a brief second, I think she has direct access to my mind.

“So what’ll we eat?” I lean toward Lily.

“Dad would have steak wouldn’t he, Mum? He doesn’t like Indian, does he?” Lily pushes her glasses up her nose.

“Probably.” Maria is studying the long list on the menu. Her face is filled with concentration and she doesn’t look up.

“He’s coming home tomorrow now, isn’t he?” Lily persists. “We’ll have the rest of the bank holiday together.”

“Yes, so what’ll we order?” Maria stares at me as if wanting to change the subject.

While we wait we talk about the film and programmes on television.

We exclaim delightedly when steaming dishes are placed on the table; chicken in creamy Korma sauce, lamb with onions, garlic and peppers, and hot sizzling beef.

“We’ll never eat all this,” Maria says, breaking Nan bread and passing it around.

“Oh yes, we will,” Lily and I reply in unison.

We idle away the meal chatting and teasing each other, and our attention is taken outside the window. We watch as people pass by, on their way to the cinema to restaurants or the bowling alley. There are groups of animated girls in mini skirts wearing heavy makeup. Young lads leaning against the railing, their hair as equally tinted and groomed as the girls.

“Years ago…” Maria says over coffee, and Lily raises her eyes toward the ceiling. “We would go into the pub and no sooner did you have a drink on the table there was a bomb scare. We were all kicked out to stand on the road, and in the winter, it was freezing cold. So we got used to socialising at home.”

“So how come you don’t have people over for dinner now?” Lily asks.

Maria pauses before replying. “We’re too busy.”

“You mean Dad’s too tired or he’s at the golf club with Connor.” Lily shoves her elbow against my arm nearly sending my coffee flying. “Mum’s a great cook! Can’t Elly come over for dinner one night?”

Rather then returning Maria’s gaze I seize the moment to order the bill. My heart is racing.  I am beginning to wish that Maria didn’t have this effect on me.

Outside the restaurant we look over the rail to the ground floor where a queue is forming to bounce on a giant trampoline. We watch as the bodies fly and twirl in the air, happy to gaze down on their energetic performances.

“Can I have a go?” Lily asks.

“You would be ill after eating that food,” Maria replies.

Lily shrugs and she wanders off for a closer look.

I lean against the rail watching those around me. I look at the clothes, tattoos and makeup, and listen to Maria’s comments about fashion. Then very gently she takes my arm and pulls me closer.

My heart skips and then beats rapidly and I smell her warm Indian breath.

“Look!” she whispers

She tucks her arm through mine, leans against me and points to the floor below us.

Stuart is talking to an attractive girl. He smiles and when the girl lifts her face for a kiss Maria whispers. “That’s Siobhan. Isn’t she stunning? No wonder he asked her out. Good for him! It’s about time there was some love and romance in the office, don’t you think?”

I can’t speak. My mouth is dry. I am aware of the goose pimples that are spreading down my arm and across my chest and the tingling sensation rising in the tips of my fingers.