May The Best Team Win – Episode 27

Gerard Fay © Neil and Rachel at dinner Illustration: Gerard Fay

Neil sat at the restaurant table fidgeting with his serviette. He still couldn’t believe that Rachel had agreed to go on a date with him.

He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt so nervous and excited.

He’d arrived early to make a good impression, but he hoped she wouldn’t be long.

This was his favourite restaurant in Dainton. It had a relaxed atmosphere, with crisp tablecloths, candles and soft background music.

Tonight, he’d left Apollo with Dawn and Graham.

“Sorry, old chap,” he’d told his faithful companion. “This is something I have to do alone.”

Apollo had looked up at him with his large dark eyes and barked once. Neil was sure he understood.

Neil felt a light touch on his shoulder and turned to see Rachel. He rose and kissed her on the cheek.

“Thank you for coming.”

She laughed and took the seat opposite him.

“Thanks for inviting me.”

Neil had a momentary panic that he wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say and it would all go horribly wrong, but Rachel smiled and spoke.

“I can’t believe it, but I’ve never been to this restaurant in all the time I’ve lived in Frenton.”

“I hope you’ll like it.”

“I’m sure I will.” Rachel opened a menu. “There’s lots of choice.”

Neil thought Rachel looked particularly lovely. She was wearing a pale dress and her blonde hair shone in the candlelight.

He swallowed.

“Shall we share a bottle of wine?” she asked.

“Of course. What would you like?”

“Anything cold and white. I’m not fussy. You choose.”

Neil grinned and began to relax.

Soon, they had placed their order and each had a glass of wine.

“It’s so exciting to be in the Quiz Quartet final!” Rachel exclaimed, her eyes glowing. “I can’t believe that we’ve made it this far.”

“Yes, it’s brilliant. We’ve certainly had some close calls along the way.”

“Tell me about it.” She rolled her eyes. “We’ve faced some tough teams.”

Neil looked thoughtful.

“We have,” he replied. “I think that will stand us in good stead.”

“Imagine if we win and beat Priscilla – I don’t know which would be better!”

He laughed. Her enthusiasm was infectious.

“Perhaps we will.”

The waitress came with a delicious main course: a steak for Neil and a salmon pasta dish for Rachel.

“How is Grayson?” Rachel asked, a while later. “He created quite a scene at the pub the other evening.”

“I think he’s doing better, thank you.

“He felt terrible when the alcohol had worn off. He’s apologised to Maeve and to Ollie.”

“He must have had a dreadful hangover.”

“I imagine he did.” Neil grimaced.

His friend was really struggling. They were a close-knit family and his wife was seriously ill.

Neil hoped, however, that with more support, Grayson would cope better. They were all praying for Nicola’s speedy recovery.

“You were amazing.” Rachel sipped her drink. “Quite heroic, stepping in like that.”

Neil felt hot and didn’t know where to look. He thought she was being far too generous.

“I was impressed with young Ollie, too,” she continued. “I’m beginning to feel better about his relationship with Sophie.

“She seems happy with him and he was brave, standing up for his mum.”

Neil was relieved. He hadn’t liked to see Rachel so anxious.

“He’s a great lad at heart,” he assured her.

The rest of the evening passed swiftly.

They discussed Ali and Cam’s news and other local matters and ended up reminiscing about their school days.

Neil would have liked to have talked to Rachel all night, but he’d already paid the bill and they’d lingered a long time over the wine.

He didn’t think he could draw things out any longer.

“Shall we share a taxi home?” he asked.

“That would be lovely.”

They were quiet on the journey back.

Neil wasn’t sure whether he should take Rachel’s hand, or if he should ask her out again straight away.

He very much wanted to do both those things, but he didn’t want to rush her.

As far as he was concerned, the date had been wonderful, but did Rachel think so, too?

He thought she’d enjoyed herself, but had she only agreed to come because it was his birthday?

Did she have any feelings for him?

Before he’d made a decision and plucked up courage to ask, they’d pulled up in front of Rachel’s house. She leaned over and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you, Neil,” she said. “It’s been a great evening.”

She smiled, climbed out of the taxi and turned to wave at the door.

The aroma of jasmine and orchids floated in the space she’d left and Neil felt an electric pulse in his chest.

He’d have to ask her out again very soon – he couldn’t help himself.

To be continued…

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