I saw them standing together and I knew. The awkward conversation they engaged in faded to nothing and I just saw their lips move. My past and future in romance collided in that moment and delivered a gut-wrenching blow to my stomach. Two versions of love battled for the upper-hand right in front of my nose. On the one hand, there was Claire, with her tight face and arrogant gaze, who stood for no-holds-barred passion reined in by a slew of impossible rules. Facing her stood Lucy, wide-lipped and freckled and so generous with her affections, so unconditional in her love for me that it verged on the ridiculous. It wasn’t even a battle really, it was more of an aha-moment, a revelation waiting to happen. I was only thirty and I felt as if I’d given up on love. As if it had dragged me down so much that I had no choice but to choose the unadventurous, safe, easy kind. Somehow I had learned to love Lucy and her dependable ways but in no way did it compare to what I had felt, or maybe still did, for Claire. It didn’t even come close. 

It’s not that I was suddenly overcome by a desire to ditch Lucy and let Claire feel me up in a dark corner of the hotel. It was just a plain and simple realisation that I shouldn’t settle for anything less than the torrent of emotions and the never-ending waves of passion I’d felt for Claire Burns. I had experienced the beginnings of it with Lou, but that had gone to hell before it could even develop. What I knew for certain though, was that I didn’t have it with Lucy. That was more make-belief, convenience, an easy way out. I watched their mouths form words in slow motion and I knew I had to make a choice. Break it to Lucy in a gentle, adult manner or a return to the despicable form of what oddly seemed my past now. Talk or cheat? Either way, I would break her heart.

“Shall we go back in, darling?” Lucy asked while wrapping her fingers around mine, and I was snapped out of my daydream. 
I smiled and squeezed her hand. “Just give me a minute to powder my nose.” I turned to look at Claire one more time. She winked at me as if she knew something. She probably did. I locked myself in for long minutes, blotting out the sounds of women entering and leaving again. Then my phone beeped. My hands were slightly shaky when I dug it out of my pocket. Somehow I knew it would be Claire. She was predictable like that. Meet me in Room 405 in twenty minutes, it said. It was decision time already. I had more respect for Lucy than that, though. She deserved more than to be discarded like that again. And I didn’t want Claire back. She was just the trigger, the intensity of our relationship the measure I wanted to hold myself to. Ten tumultuous years in romance had proved insightful enough not to let myself get burned by Claire again. No, I typed and sent it with a sense of relief bubbling through me. But the hardest part was yet to come.
I walked back into the room and was scooped up by Alex.
“Good news, Leesbian,” he said. “That coward Lou isn’t coming tonight. Apparently she’s not feeling well.” He curled his fingers into air quotes. “That’s one less bitch to worry about.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” I said and stole his champagne glass out of his hand.

To be continued…

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