(I haven’t mentioned my lizard brain to Linus. I mean, there are some things you tell a boyfriend and there are some things you totally keep to yourself; otherwise you sound like a nutter.)
“Hey, Orange Slice.” I touch his hand and we brush mouths together.
“OK,” says Linus, as soon as we part. “I have one. Go and ask that man if ducks are vegetarian.” He points to an elderly man throwing bread at the ducks.
“Are ducks vegetarian?”
“Of course they’re not, you dope. They eat worms. Go on.” He pushes my shoulder and I get up with a grin. I’m pulsating with dread but I force myself to have a conversation with the guy about ducks. Then I return to the bench and tell Linus to go and ask a bunch of French tourists which country we’re in.
Linus is a master. A master. He tells the French tourists in tones of consternation that he was aiming for Sweden, and must have gone astray, and they all start looking at maps and phones and saying “Angleterre! Eeengland!” to him and gesticulating at the red buses that pass the park every five seconds.
“Oh, England,” says Linus at last, and they all nod furiously and say “D’accord! Grande Bretagne! Eeengland!” and at last they head off, all still gabbling and looking back at him. They’ll probably talk about him for the rest of their holiday.
“OK,” says Linus as he returns to the bench. “Go and ask that guy if he sells coconut ice-cream.” He nods at the ice-cream seller who has had his stall in the park every summer for as long as I can remember.
“I know. That’s why you’re asking.”
“Too easy,” I say proudly. “Think of another one.”
“Can’t be bothered,” says Linus lazily. “Go and do ice-cream guy.”
I head over to the stall and patiently wait my turn, and then say,
“Excuse me, do you sell coconut ice-cream?”
I know what he’s going to say. I’ve asked for coconut ice-cream every year since I was about eight, but he never has it.
“I do today,” says the ice-cream seller, his eyes twinkling. I stare at him stupidly as he reaches for his scoop.
“Coconut ice-cream for the young lady,” he says with a flourish. “One-day special. Just for you.”
“What?” I blink in disbelief as he scoops white ice-cream into a massive cone. “Is that coconut?”
“Just for you,” he repeats, handing me the cone. “And a chocolate-chip for the young man,” he adds, handing me a second cone. “All paid for.”
“Coconut’s my favourite flavour,” I say, in a daze. “But you never have it.”
“That’s what he said. Your young man. Asked me to get it in special-like.”
I swivel round, and Linus is watching, his smile wider than ever.
“Thanks,” I say to the ice-cream seller. “I mean, thanks.”
As I reach Linus, I fling my arms round him without dropping either ice-cream and kiss him. “I can’t believe you did that!” I hand him his cone and lick my own. It’s nectar. It’s bliss. Coconut is the best flavour in the world. “Oh my God.”
“I love it. I love it.”
“So do I,” says Linus, licking his own cone. “You.”
His words catch on my brain. So do I. You.
The park is a riot of sunshine and ducks quacking and children shrieking, but right now it’s as though the whole world has shrunk to his face. His brown hair, his honest eyes, that crescent smile.
“What…do you mean?” I force the words out.
“What I said. I love it too,” he says, not taking his eyes off mine.
“You said you.”
“Well…maybe that’s what I meant.”
I love it. So do I. You.
The words are dancing round my mind like jigsaw pieces, fitting together this way and that way.
“What, exactly?” I have to say it.
“You know exactly.” His eyes are smiling to match his orange-segment mouth. But they’re grave too.
“Well…I love it too,” I say, my throat tight. “You.”
“Yes.” I swallow. “Yes.”
We don’t need to say any more. And I know I’ll always remember this moment, right here, standing in the park with the ducks and the sunshine and his arms round me. His kiss tastes of chocolate-chip and I’m sure I taste of coconut.
Actually, those flavours go very well together. So.
And it’s only later that life disintegrates.