"Can I ask you a question?"
"And promise me you'll tell me the honest answer?"
He hesitates before he answers again, "...OK," he finally manages and wraps his arm around me as we walk along the footpath of the rippling Thames.
"I know you've said no to this question before, so I don't really know why I'm asking,"
"But that night last September when you left early with Lisa, did you sleep with her?"
And the question's out there and I can never get it back. The next minute before any sound comes out of his mouth is the longest minute I've ever experienced. I stand there, my eyes glued as I watch his face change, and it tells me more than words ever could. A faint "yes" emerges from his lips.
My entire body goes numb as his grip on me tightens and pulls me closer, but all I want to do is get away.
He laughs nervously and tries again to hold on. "Come here," he attempts and fails, his hand grazing against my back as I walk away. But his touch doesn't feel right anymore. It's not the same. It was claimed by another for a few minutes before me and it was probably never meant to be mine in the first place.
"Can we at least talk about this?"
I wouldn't know what to say.
"Ella, please can we talk about this?"
"You should have told me," I raise my voice, looking ahead trying desperately to show that I'm not hurt by it, because all I want to do is go home and cry. But I have no right to cry.
This happened before me.
And yet it doesn't matter how many times I tell myself this, I can't shift the tight knot that's formed itself in the pit of my stomach taunting me and telling me, "I told you so!"
"I'm sorry. Are you OK?"
Turn your head, look at him, smile slightly and nod. Just pretend like you don't care.
"I'll be fine in a minute," I lie and then wonder whether I'm over-reacting with this whole thing. Should I even be getting angry? Do I even have a right to get angry?
I hear his footsteps fall heavily as he strides towards me trying once again to envelop his arms around me. "I was really drunk! Like, really drunk!" he keeps repeating, "For a minute it just seemed like a good idea!" I don't hear his words because my brain has turned into my own enemy and is teasing me with unwanted questions. Does he love her? Would he rather be with her right now? Am I second choice?
My whole judgement's blurred and my head is rushing through memories, aimlessly analysing every word he's ever said, every minute of our time together. But memories which I thought were the making of us are now tainted and tarnished with news I should have known a long time ago. My entire world has shifted when only a few minutes ago everything was perfect.
"I work with her every single day!" I blurt out. "I see her every day! You didn't think it would be fair for me to know that you slept with someone I'm friends with?" I look away again shaking my head. "It's weird, Nick. It's really weird!"
"Maybe," he shrugs his shoulders.
"Maybe? There's no maybe about it! You don't think it's weird that there's a girl in the office who knows something your girlfriend doesn't? What would you have done if she'd told me?" he looks to the floor. "It's horrible that you would even put me in that situation,"
"It was before you. I was so different then. I didn't even think I had a chance with you!"
I sit down on the edge of the river bank and try to calm down, because getting in an argument won't help anything. I start to play with a lonely daffodil in its early bloom and get reminded of all my teenage dreams of love and how none of this ever crossed my mind.
Surely it's meant to be simple?
Surely you meet someone and that's it, right?
Why are there always other people involved? Why can't your Prince Charming ever be your Prince Charming?
"You should have still told me. I asked you so many times if something had happened and you always said no! It would have taken a minute back when we were just friends to tell the truth," I say, suddenly irritated and annoyed and not wanting to stop the argument after all.
He's about to speak but I don't let him. "I spent a good 50 minutes talking to my best friend about you and telling her how amazing our relationship is, and how being friends for so long is a good thing because I know everything about you. There'd be no nasty surprises along the way. I said that you'd never lie to me," I stop for breath, eyes filling up with salty tears, "and I hate that I had you all wrong," I push the daffodil away like an unwanted toy and stare out at the river needing desperately to stop crying.
"I didn't tell you the truth because I was scared of losing you. If you knew, nothing would have ever happened between us,"
"Of course it would!" I shout. "I can't blame you for having a one night stand two months before you and me! But I can blame you for not telling me," I feel tired and exhausted. As if I have too much to say but my point isn't being made and he's not listening to it. "Nick, it's not like you slept with someone who I don't know and who you'll never see again. You slept with someone who we both see and speak to every single day! You should have told me!"
I need to take a breather. Just a minute to sit down and be silent.
And to stop fucking crying!
I hear him take a deep breath before he says, "I love you. For me, nothing's changed,"
I want to yell.
I want to punch him in the face and remind him that he's the one with the revelation, not me. But all I do is stare out onto the great Thames and cry even more.
"For me everything's changed," I manage through spells of tears. "When you meet someone you gradually build a picture of them. Of your relationship. One by one I've been making the puzzle pieces fit and thinking I had all of them, but you've thrown another one at me and I don't know where it goes. My entire image is wrong. I don't know how to make this fit,"
"So just throw that piece away," he sits down next to me and kisses my cheek, "It shouldn't go anywhere. It's not part of anything. It's insignificant!"
I feel like I should be pushing him away... but I don't want him to go anywhere.
"I should have told you, and I really am sorry. But nothing's different to a few minutes ago. We're still exactly the same," he pulls me closer, resting his head on my shoulder before leaning in for another kiss.
For a minute everything's back to normal as we sit there together. That knot in my stomach unties itself and things feel fine. Back to normal. Safe.
But the minute gets replaced by the next and I'm back to square one again, thinking thoughts I never thought I'd have in my head. I can't stop picturing the two of them together and it kills me, absolutely kills me that someone else I know knows my boyfriend in a way only I should. I want to tell him that if it were the other way around, there is no way he'd be fine. But he would never understand. Not really. Not unless it actually happens to him.
I think about breaking it off completely. I've been telling myself that it'll take time to get used to this new information. That eventually I'll be fine with it.
But why should I?
Why should I have to? Why get used to something you don't particularly want to get used to? Wouldn't I rather have a boyfriend who hasn't slept with someone I work with? Can't I just get another boyfriend?
It's at that moment that I get an image of me at about 40 years of age sitting in a bar on my own with 'The Man That Got Away' playing in the background, twirling my unwanted wedding ring given to me by a guy I never loved, sipping on a G n'T and wishing I could turn back the minutes and come back to this spot right here. It's this which makes me realise why I haven't run away yet.
I wipe away the last tear from my cheek and turn to look at him. His blue eyes blaze into me in anticipation of what I'm going to say, but he speaks first,
"She was a mistake,"
I don't respond.
"I just wanted to forget about it. The two of us wanted to pretend like it never happened,"
'The two of us' - that really hits me hard. Like they're together. Like they're part of something together. I want to say, "Well, she was your mistake, you're mine!"and get up and walk away.
But I don't because I know I wouldn't mean it and because I really don't want to leave.
"I know this happened back in September, but you have to understand that because I've only found out, it feels to me like it's happening right now," I tell him. "And this may sound crazy but I keep thinking about every single time you've brought her up in conversation saying how she's annoying you, and I keep asking myself whether you mentioned her because she actually was annoying you, or because you were thinking about her,"
He laughs at that.
I want to hit him.
"Ella, if I ever talk about her, it will always be because she's annoying me,"
We sit in silence again, minutes flying by like pages off calendars and I know that soon things will get better again. In a minute I'll get past this. In a minute it'll be forgotten. In a minute it'll be something we laugh about.
"Please tell me we're OK," he looks intently at me, his left arm embracing me tightly.
I force a faint smile and kiss him on the lips. No, things aren't fine - I want to say. But they will be.
Any minute now.