You roll the cue across the table to check for kinks. I make the break, sending the balls off in every direction. Even now, when all bets are off, I still get two shots to every one of yours. You always were generous.
You make your way around the table, hitting the balls into the pocket with practised ease. I’m haphazard, hitting my target wildly and hoping for the best. You call out tips as we go, still determined to teach me the game after all this time. I bite my tongue and let you think you’re helping.
Whenever I follow your advice, I miss my shot. When I go straight in, don’t stop to think what I’m doing, the balls go down one after the other. I sink five in a row and you whistle. You’ve been practising with someone, you say quietly, and the unanswered question sits between us until I take my next shot. I miss, sending the white ball flying off the table altogether.
It’s late and the bar is closing. You clean up, sending down three at once so there’s only the black left. You miss your shot so that I have a chance of winning. I line it up and it glances off the cushion and rolls into the pocket like a dream.
I’ve never won before. Without thinking I throw my arms around you. You freeze, then lean your head against mine and take a deep breath, letting it out slowly as we hold each other in the empty bar.
I have to break away.
You walk me back to my new flat. We smile at each other, agree we have to do this again soon. I stand at the doorway and watch you walk away, shoulders hunched against the night chill.
I close the door, walk up the stairs, let myself into a flat that doesn’t smell of you, and cry.