In the morning, Iain woke to an empty bed. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and rose to pull on his clothes. Instead of feeling well-rested, he felt like he hadn’t slept a wink. It was going to make for a long day, given what was on the agenda.

Iain stretched and made his way to the kitchen to see if Graeme had made him coffee. As a tea drinker himself, Graeme liked to poke fun at Iain’s preference, but he was at least willing to keep the stuff around for when Iain slept there. The kitchen was empty, but sure enough, Graeme had left coffee and a note. Gone to run errands. Help yourself to whatever you’d like. Don’t forget to lock the door when you leave.

Huffing, Iain laid the note aside and picked up the coffee. He warmed it in the microwave and sat down at the table to enjoy it. How like Graeme not to wait to say goodbye, even knowing he wouldn’t see Iain for a few days because he’d be with Cate and then working. Iain considered whether Graeme might be avoiding him because he didn’t want to talk about Cate; the thought made him uncomfortable. He’d been sure the pair of them were all right with the arrangement they had, and Graeme had never seemed bothered by it before outside of keeping it from their mates.

Thinking about Cate reminded Iain of the weekend they had planned together. First he was to meet Cate at the bridal boutique after fittings for her cousin’s wedding, followed by watching said cousin’s fiance play. Rob was a footballer, and he never let up about it. Iain didn’t care for sport, but Cate’s whole family were invested in every moment of every match. It wasn’t shocking that Caroline had managed to hook a professional.

Sundays were spent with Cate’s family for dinner after church. Iain and Cate never attended services, but most of the rest did. Afterwards, the whole lot gathered to eat and all talk at the same time. Iain usually left with his head buzzing. The only family member other than Cate who made it remotely tolerable was her youngest sister. Elinor was twelve and perceptive as hell. She usually managed to find a way to sneak Iain out to the back garden to sit and read together for a bit while the others were immersed in shouting at the telly. Iain had the unhappy feeling he had more of a friendship with Elinor than he did with Cate.

Iain finished his coffee and washed the cup, not wanting to leave any mess for Graeme. He didn’t bother searching for food; he wasn’t hungry. It occurred to him he shouldn’t meet Cate on an empty stomach—in case the fittings took longer than anticipated—but he ignored his own warning. Remembering to lock up, he left Graeme’s flat for the bridal shop.

When he arrived, Cate was waiting. She stood outside the shop, arms crossed and foot tapping. Iain rolled his eyes as he drove past to find a place to park. He was only five minutes late, and she could have been inside trying on hideous flouncy dresses instead of waiting for him. He turned off the engine and paused before getting out. Something might have happened to prompt her to avoid Caroline and the other women.

“Thank God you’re here,” Cate said the moment Iain’s feet swung out from the car. “Caro’s being an absolute shrew. Brings new meaning to the word ‘bridezilla.’ She made Stephanie cry, and Elinor’s hiding with a book in one of the cubicles.”

“And you’re out here with me.” Iain pulled her close and kissed her; the return press of lips was half-hearted, so he withdrew. “Did she at least find a dress?”

Cate nodded. “Wait till you see it.” She shuddered.

Iain muffled his laughter in Cate’s hair. “Lead on,” he said.

They entered the shop, and Iain stopped short when he saw Caroline. The dress was something else—not particularly to his taste, not that he had much experience with wedding dresses. It was apparently not to anyone else’s taste either, if their expressions were any indication. Even the shop owner appeared wary. Caroline’s dress featured a tight bodice with mountains of lacy, silky something-or-other at the bottom. She looked like one of those cakes where the top was half a Barbie and the bottom was a bubble of fondant and buttercream. The other women’s dresses were of similar style and the most terrifying shade of pink Iain had ever laid eyes on. He covered his reaction by exaggerating a coughing fit and asking the shop’s proprietor for a glass of water.

When they were through, the whole merry band scattered to their vehicles to head for the stadium to watch Rob’s match. Cate climbed in with Iain, and before he turned the key in the ignition, there was a knock on his window. He rolled it down and Elinor stuck her face inside.

“Can I ride with you? I don’t think I can take another minute of Caro.”

“Get in,” Iain replied.

The footie match was tolerable. Rob’s team won, which made the rest of the afternoon significantly more pleasant than it would have been otherwise. They capped it with dinner and drinks at a posh restaurant at Caroline and Rob’s expense. By that point, Elinor had gone elsewhere with some of her school mates. Iain would have enjoyed it more if she had stayed—she always liked to talk about books, and even Cate could be persuaded to join in now and again. Cate was an avid reader, but she consumed so many books she rarely recalled the plots, and most of it wasn’t for pleasure anyway. Her work as a copy editor for a moderately-sized publisher kept her from having time to enjoy what she read.

Eventually, the crowd drifted away, and Iain drove Cate back to her flat. Like Graeme, she didn’t care to spend the night at Iain’s. It had never occurred to him before that they both might be avoiding one another, but after the way Graeme had put him off talking about his weekend plans with Cate, he suspected that was the real reason neither of them ever spent the night. It made little sense to Iain. If he was with one of them, there was next to no chance they would run into the other.

Cate was somewhat more hearts-and-flowers when it came to lovemaking. It was always slow and sensual, occasionally to the point of being boring. Each time began the same way, with the pair of them undressing each other then lying face to face on Cate’s luxuriously large bed. Everything following was a familiar routine—comforting, homey, and safe, if not especially interesting or fun.

After the long day, Iain wanted nothing more than to connect with Cate. He wanted to feel her under him and around him, soft and deep and loving. Unfortunately for him, Cate had other ideas. Once they were inside the door, Cate kicked off her shoes and pulled out her phone.

“Hang on a mo’” she said. “Just need to ring a few people for work.”

Iain sighed and rummaged in the fridge for a beer. He didn’t really want one, but it was something to do while he waited for Cate to make her phone calls. He sat at her table, and the strange, airy feeling he’d had the night before was back. It was stronger this time, enough for him to look down at himself to see if he’d lost some weight between the restaurant and Cate’s flat. Everything appeared to be in order, however, so he shrugged to himself and went back to sipping his beer.

Cate appeared at his elbow. “Ready to head to bed?”

“Sure, yeah.”

Iain stood up and followed her into the bedroom. With Graeme, it had been throwing clothes and pushing each other into the bed in their hurry. With Cate, they took their time. She pulled off her blouse then turned around, lifting her hair so he could kiss her neck while unhooking her bra. She hummed and leaned into him, and he couldn’t help wishing he could sometimes do this with Graeme. He gave himself a sound mental whack for thinking of someone else while making love to Cate and put it out of his head.

They spent far too little time enjoying the build-up. On cue, Cate twirled in his arms and reached up to encircle his neck. They finished undressing, and she took his hand to lead him to the bed. For several lovely minutes, they kissed, tongues touching delicately. Iain tried to be conscientious about not slobbering on Cate, having overheard her and Caroline talking once about not liking men to make a mess with any body fluids, saliva included. He pulled Cate closer, wrapping around her body. He didn’t even care if they did anything other than this—he needed to feel her, to have their bodies touch shoulder-to-hip, to move together.

Tonight was apparently not the time to make any drastic changes. Everything flowed in the same familiar groove, all the way to the end. After, Cate shoved a little, and Iain flopped onto the bed next to her. She kissed him lightly and turned over to put out the light. Iain let out a sorrowful breath. He’d hoped she wanted to cuddle a little, after what they’d just done. Instead, she was asleep in moments, leaving him to lie in the dark, disappointed yet again. He threw an arm over his eyes, and as he did so, the odd feeling of lightness returned, stronger than it had been. Just before he fell asleep, Iain vowed to call the surgery come Monday morning for a check.