I guess everyone's love story begins this way, with the what ifs. If I hadn't gone out that night, if I hadn't broken up with that girl, if I hadn't been late for the tube......Looking back it seems like magic was at work, or chance or fate or luck. Whatever it is, it feels good and we weave it into the narrative that it was all meant to be and, sometimes, if we're lucky, it is mythologised in a wedding speech and, if we're even more blessed, we get to the end of our lives and it is validated by the fifty years of happy marriage that we shared. It was written in the stars. If we're unlucky, we end up as star-cross'd lovers sacrificed for the greater good at the end of the play. Hey ho. Destiny is a tricky customer.
But still, if he hadn't left me broken-hearted back last April, I wouldn't even have been single last summer. I never thought there would be a silver-lining to that cloud. But there was. If I hadn't seen you outside of Ian's party two years previously, I wouldn't have known that Ed was divorced. If Ed hadn't got together with his new partner, he wouldn't have been taking kids to school with my friends' kids and she wouldn't have mentioned him. And maybe I wouldn't have gone searching for him on Facebook after 12 years.
If Ed hadn't been working round the corner from my house that day. If I hadn't bought my Bongo campervan. If he didn't have a Bongo too. If I hadn't rudely abandoned my writing friend in a cafe and rushed home for a cup of tea with him. If you hadn't phoned while he was there. If Ed and his gang hadn't been going for a walk near your house that evening. If the kids hadn't been at their dad's that night. If I hadn't decided at the last minute to drive at 90 miles an hour to join them, at least partly, in the hope that you would be there. If you hadn't decided to meet us for a drink at the pub later. Maybe it would still have happened another way. But, this is the way it happened. And the way it might just as easily never have happened.
It was a lovely walk. I nervously chatted to people I didn't know about questions of life and love but I was mostly focused on the main question of whether you would come to the pub or not. It was touch and go until the last minute. The pub near your house was shut and we had to go to Baslow instead. You probably wouldn't have bothered to walk that far just for a drink. You didn't even like drinking and liked your own company more. I could hear you on the phone to Ed, could hear you wavering. I almost said what he said, that I'd come and fetch you, but that seemed ridiculously keen. But he fetched you and you came.
'Blacksmith Paul!' I said.
'Beverley Ward! you said.
We hugged with the warmth of old friends reunited after fifteen years.
'You look good,' you said. 'You've lost weight.'
Cue, the same old story about the sick child and the allergies and how if you cut out dairy, gluten, eggs and sugar from your diet, you will lose weight as a side effect. You had lost weight too but I had no idea how much. It's only when I look at old photos now that I realise what had happened to you in those intervening years. If you hadn't picked yourself up that new year and lost all that weight, would we still have got together?
I made sure we sat together. We joined in the general chat. I wished everyone else would go away so that we could have a proper conversation. We had a little one, about my imminent camping trip to Matlock and the raft races you used to do there. You asked me to see if I could find you some gold. We bantered about Fool's Gold and crocks at the end of the rainbow. We were already on another planet. I asked you how the blacksmithing was going, reminded you that you once said you would teach me to make a poker. You said you would.
As we were leaving the pub, Ed could see what was happening. He'd tried once before to get us together. He tried again now.
'Are you giving Paul a lift home, Beverley?'
'Would you like a ride in my Bongo, Blacksmith Paul?' I asked.
'You don't get an offer like that every day,' Ed said.
"I know! I'm taking it!' you said and raced off in the direction of my new campervan.
You directed me in the blackness to the driveway up to your place, the driveway I have driven up more since you died than I did when you were alive.
'I won't ask you in,' you said. 'It's not suitable for ladies.'
We exchanged numbers and said that we would meet up soon for poker making. I put your name in my phone as Blacksmith Paul.
'I want an interesting name,' I said.
'Bongo Bev,' you said.
I laughed. We said goodnight. And I went off to Matlock in search of the gold at the end of the rainbow.