“So what’s your plan, Romeo?” Charlie smiles at me from across the table, her hands wrapped round her mug.
I shrug. “Catch the bus. Find her at the airport.”
She raises her eyebrows. “And then? No grand romantic gesture?”
I can feel myself blushing.
“I know you better than that, Toph,” she says, gently. “What’s the plan?”
And suddenly, it feels stupid. Everything I was planning to do. Everything I was planning to say. When I try to explain, it sounds pathetic.
“There’s a teddy bear.”
She nods, her face serious. “In the rucksack?”
“Not flowers, then?” She glances at the vase of red roses on the work surface, and I can’t help smiling.
“I’m not Rob!” My voice is too loud, covering my embarrassment. She grins. “I’m not made of money! And anyway – she wouldn’t be allowed to take them on the plane.”
Charlie nods, approvingly. “You’ve thought this out.”
I stare at the mug in front of me on the table.
“Yeah. I have. And I’m going to be late.”
She reaches across the table and puts her hand over mine.
“But the bus …”
“You’re not catching the bus, Toph.” She glances at her watch again. “Finish your tea. Give me a minute to put some shoes on.”
I stare at her, and she grins at me again. “Drink up, Romeo. I’m taking you to the airport. No sense in wasting that romantic plan of yours.”
“You’re not going to tell Dad, are you?”
Charlie pretends to think about it, screwing up her face as she watches the road through the windscreen.
“Charlie?” I can feel my heart racing.
“On balance, I think it’s best that I don’t.”
I take a deep breath. “Thanks, Charlie. He wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re right. He wouldn’t. And given that I’m the one driving you across London to your romantic rendezvous, I think we’d better keep this between us. Don’t you?” She winks at me.
And I’m laughing, in spite of the lump in my throat. In spite of the icy feeling that’s climbing my spine.
She glances at me. “You OK?”
I shake my head.
“What if I don’t find her?” I’m starting to panic. “What if she doesn’t want to see me? What if her Dad …?”
“Toph!” She shouts over my protests. “Toph. Shut up.”
I look at her in surprise.
“I’m serious. Shut up. You’re making yourself panic.”
“Yes, but …”
“But nothing, Christopher Mackenzie.” I shut up. I know better than to argue with Auntie Charlie when she uses my full name. I sit back in my seat and let her talk.
“You like this girl, yes?” I nod. “And you’ve thought about how you’re going to say goodbye.” I nod again. “You’ve planned it. You’ve bought the romantic gift.” She glances at me, smiling. “You’ve even recruited a chauffeur to get you to your meeting.”
I can’t help smiling back.
“So is there anything you haven’t done? Anything you’ve forgotten?”
I shake my head, thinking it through. I’ve done everything I can. Now it’s up to Charlie, and Nasrin.
“Does she like you?” I nod again. That part I’m sure about.
“So what’s your excuse, Toph? What’s all the panic about?”
“I just …”
“Is there anything else you can do?”
I shake my head, looking out of the window at the dirty streets and the grey sky. At a pair of soldiers in black armour patrolling a shopping precinct. “No.”
“Then it’s time to be brave, Christopher Mackenzie.” She smiles. “Time to go through with your plan, and give it your best shot. Whatever happens, you’ll know you did your best.”