He glanced at the front-page as he walked to the bin, wondering what Wesley found in it that made it worth bringing it into the office. At the bin he paused, leafing through it, looking at pages that seemed to be two-thirds photographs and one-third easy words. The Greek crisis warranted maybe two and a half column inches, which was a quarter that allocated to a description of seeing a boy-band in a fast-food restaurant at the weekend. Even the sport section seemed abbreviated, and he looked at a report of a football match three times before concluding that they really had forgotten to write down what the final score was.
Just before he threw it away his eye was caught by what looked like a block of small ads, the kind where people offered battered cars or used baby-buggies for sale. He scanned them: they all seemed to be singles looking for dates. The one at the bottom of the left-hand column was as terse as they came: ASAP Rocky.
He dropped the paper in the bin, sat back down at his desk, and sighed when he realised that Wesley had been eating something sticky and half the keys on the keyboard had little sticky ovals on them.
Two hours later he pulled the free newspaper out of the bin, smoothed it down until the creasing didn't bother him too much and opened it to the list of lonely heart ads again. Reading them more carefully he realised that they were more of a missed connections type thing: people thanking others for picking up their overpacked suitcases on the underground and helping them navigate the stairs and corridors, or admitting to having stared at some poor soul until they got off the train in embarassment and now seeking meet them and make things worse. He re-read the bottom left corner again; nothing more than ASAP Rocky and an identifier, something to allow you to specify that you were responding to the ad. He sighed and put the newspaper back in the bin.
Twenty minutes later it was back on his desk again, and his stomach was trembling with the feeling of butterflies. He found scissors in the desk-drawer, the one he locked and took the key home with him to stop Wesley from being able to get in there, and cut the advert out. Then he put the newspaper back in the bin, for the last time, with a sense of relief.
Seven minutes before it was time to go home he logged onto the free newspapers website and entered the identifier for the advert. The screen provided him with a comment box and a submission button and asked for an email address so that replies could reach him. His hand moved the mouse to the close-window button, but he still couldn't quite make himself do it. The butterflies were back, and his knees were feeling shaky even though he was sitting down. It was all ridiculous, and childish, and.... Well it was, but it was a kind of fun too.
Where, and when? he typed into the box. He put his Hotmail email address in there, one he'd not used in ten years, and clicked Submit.
Then he stuffed his fist in his mouth, appalled and amazed at what he'd just done, and tried not to giggle around it.
"Are you all right?" Maria was stood in the doorway, her coat on, clearly about to leave.
"Yeah," said Tim, removing his fist from his mouth first. "Heartburn."
"Right," said Maria, already turned away from him and opening the door.
He picked up a copy of the free newspaper on his way into work the next morning, telling himself that nothing would be in there, that his little joke wouldn't even make it on to the pages. And he was right, there were twenty-eight desperate declarations that a fleeting glance of a stranger had been enough to stimulate love at first sight, but no sign of his reply or anything else that might have been a reply.
When he remembered to check his Hotmail account at lunchtime though, things were different. There was a reply from the missed connections service. The Roadhouse, 8:30pm Rocky
His breath caught in his chest and for a moment he thought he'd forgotten how to breath. Then he coughed, spitting on the screen, and despite the coughs racking him he had to get up and get a tissue and wipe it all clean again.
"Are you alright?" asked Maria, sounding concerned, but she'd walked back into her office before he could answer.
He knew the Roadhouse, it was a pub above a club about fifteen minutes away from the office. He'd gone there when he was a student, before he'd met Clara who'd become his wife and was now a distant present in the house who left the occasional note and kept her bedroom door locked. It wouldn't be hard to go there, they served food so he could get there after work and have something to eat, something to drink, maybe watch the match on the television. Someone would be playing tonight, and then he could watch and see who came in for Rocky.
He paused, and then checked the email. Actually, it might be a Rocky that would be coming in. Rocky was a boxer's name. He felt a frisson down his back; was he about to get himself beaten up for a silly joke?
He leant back in the chair, and then leant forward again and found the scrap of newspaper in the lockable drawer. No, even there it wasn't clear if Rocky had placed the ad or if the ad was for Rocky. But did it matter? Rocky, or whoever it was, couldn't know that Tim had replied, or that Tim was in there watching. And what if Rocky turned out to be a woman, stunningly beautiful and in need of a guy like Tim?
He laughed at himself for a moment, but the idea lingered. Twenty minutes later he'd made up his mind: he was going to the Roadhouse.