John had set out to buy a birthday present, but had no idea where to go or what to choose. The initial euphoria at being invited to the party, albeit at the last moment, had been replaced by panic. When his mobile beeped and he looked at the message one question had been answered; what time to turn up? Two of the others in the group were going to meet him at the tube station; he had never been to Ali’s place before.
He smiled to himself, now he had a timetable to work to and the weekend was looking up. That was the good thing about being in London, you didn’t have to be lonely, there was always something going on, especially if you were part of a group. He had started going dancing to get out and meet people and it seemed to be working. The group of twentyandthirtysomethings had absorbed him. From Valentine’s evening to bank holidays, it didn’t matter if you weren’t in a couple; there was always a dance or a picnic in the park. With mobile phones and Facebook everybody kept in touch. He tried to explain to his mother on the phone that these days girls and boys could just be friends; if he mentioned a girl’s name she was liable to get twittery.
Ali was his friend, she was everybody’s friend, the centre of the group. He had no idea if there was a boyfriend lurking in the background, too new in the group to know much about the lives of the others.
John sighed, he surely wasn’t the only bloke who fancied Ali. She was tall, slim and beautiful, but there was more to her than that. The first time he saw her on the dance floor, her long legs were encased in jazzy black tights and she wore a short red tartan skirt that his mother would have called ‘no more than a belt’. Ali’s short black hair, stunning eye make up and black lipstick were set off by the broad, black leather collar with spikes that she wore around her long neck. It was a look that only Ali could carry off with aplomb. She had done modelling, but was far too intelligent to actually be a model; her job was something interesting and arty.
He found himself at the flower market near Brick Lane. Flowers would be a safe gift he pondered, as he paused at a stall. Amongst the lush bouquets he saw a small pot, a neat plant with two small flowers.
‘It’s a Black Mamba Gallia Lilly’ the flower woman interrupted his thoughts.
John picked up the pot and examined the exquisite flower. No flower could be truly black; these blooms were deepest purple, the hint of colour gave them their beautiful velvet sheen.
‘I’ve got some nice pink tissue paper if it’s for a present’ she said helpfully.
Ali certainly didn’t do pink.
‘Do you have black tissue paper?’
When the three of them arrived at Ali’s place it was so crowded he wasn’t sure of the set up. Girls were arriving bearing shiny gift bags; he tried to see what the other men had brought and hung back as Ali gratefully hugged everybody. As people wandered off to get drinks he nervously edged forward and proffered his gift.
‘Oh, it’s perfect, that’s so me, you really get it.’
She pecked his cheek and he kissed her shyly, wary of the collar spikes. She clasped his hand.
‘Come through and meet Lucas, my fiancé.’