Placing my cup on the table, I say, “What are you doing sitting all alone over here?”
Kanika looks up at me and then over towards the others. “Oh, I’m not welcome among the beautiful people.”
“The beautifuls, the white Anglo-saxon atheist females. That’s why I rarely come down here. What are you doing sitting … standing … in the reject corner? They’re all waiting for you. I can smell the oxytocin from here. No dry knickers in the house.”
“I’m … wait, I’ll sit down … sitting talking to you.”
“I’m not in project mode at the moment. I’m totally bored with it.”
There’s a surprise; she always seems so keen and even waits at the lab doors for me every day. “No way am I thinking about that right now.”
She smiles … that dimple just next to the corner of her mouth. I have plans for that dimple. I could do it now but the table’s too wide and I may get slapped. She asks, “So what is going through that pretty little head of yours?”
“Don’t ask. You really don’t want to know. Give me a second; I’ve been practising this in front of the mirror.”
“Oh-oh, the beautifuls are all looking this way. I think you’ve upset them.”
“They’re not especially beautiful.”
“They think they are.” She laughs, and rolls her eyes.
“And they don’t talk to each other. At least not when I’m there. They only talk to me and ignore each other.”
“Oh, what a surprise. Don’t you think they’re beautiful?”
“Kanika, you’ve derailed me. Stop talking. I’m trying to concentrate.”
She leans forward, hands palm down, one over the other, and rests her chin there. “It’s very impolite of you not to answer my question.”
“No! OK, totally derailed now. Do I think they’re… Fine then: question for you. Are you wearing any makeup? be honest. I mean I’m a bloke so I can’t tell if you’ve done that ‘men won’t think I’m wearing makeup’ thing.”
“I’m not wearing makeup.”
I lean back to study her face. “Really? That’s…” Now I lean forward, mimicking her and getting the chance for a bit of intimacy. “So…”
“They plaster themselves, the beautiful people, with makeup till they look like plastic dolls and still don’t reach anywhere near your natural beauty?”
Now she leans back and pretends to fan her face. “In case you can’t tell, I’m blushing.” She looks away. “Dear me, Miranda’s stood up … and Sarah. They’re both staring this way … and so are the rest. I’m dead … well, as soon as you leave the canteen.”
“I’m not in a hurry to leave. Anyway, can you stop talking for a bit? I want to say something.”
She shrugs. “I’m listening.”
“Well, we went to the convention and Christmas parties together…” I dry up.
“And the Tate Gallery so I could educate you – which didn’t work.”
“Please shut up. And you let me kiss you on the cheek last week…” I dry up again but she keeps quiet. “And we’ve worked almost side-by-side for over a year so, technically, you could say we’re going out together.”
Her eyebrows rise but that’s all. Oh, her eyes narrowed a bit when I mentioned the kiss. That’s not a good sign but I stumble on, “Well, I enjoyed that kiss…”
“I hate to interrupt you but a task force is forming and heading this way to end our nice little chat.”
“I’ll stop them.”
“Not them: Miranda’s leading it.”
From somewhere comes a massive surge of hilarious confidence. “Watch me!” I slide from the bench and kneel before her. Pulling out the velvet-covered box, I say, “Kanika, I love you. Will you marry me?” I think I’m sweating right through to my lab coat. Strangely, it’s not her huge smile or about the way she turns her head to me or those incredible brown eyes, it’s the sound of multiple stilettos abruptly stopping only a couple of metres away that grabs my attention.
Kanika takes the box in one hand and holds my fingers with the other. “I’ll need time to think about it. Hmm … yes, but I want a decent kiss, not a peck on the cheek.” She opens the box and nearly drops it. “What? No… No way!”
My turn to blush. “Oh yes I … I took out a bit of a loan: it’s for you, you see. So you will marry me … really?”
“Yes, of course, but…” She lifts the ring, turning it to the window and sunlight. Colours flash over Kanika’s face and create rich iridescent hues in her jet-black hair. “It’s beautiful, you maniac.”
“Yes, but only if I can handle the finances.”

©Gary Bonn, 2020