It was the fire that we noticed first; brightly blazing logs inside a hearth that looked like the drum of a washing machine. At that point we were shivering outside peering in through the window, the warmth visible but not reachable. We'd arrived far too early; eagerness and mistrust in rail services conspiring to make us arrive thirty minutes before the pub was due to open.
Too cold to stand for long, we walked around the neighbourhood that neither of us knew. We stared up at the glass and chrome fronted apartments, imagining the lives of those who lived within, enviously admiring the wide balconies facing out to the river, picturing champagne and canapes on a warm summer's evening. We sympathised with the residents of the less showy flats round the side, that looked out on the waste recycling centre, where the smaller glass-fronted balconies were lined with rush screens, as though their owners were too ashamed to be seen. We passed an oversized Chinese restaurant where the white-clothed tables were each surrounded by pale yellow satin-draped chairs - like frozen bridesmaids round a petrified bride.
On our way back to the pub we paused to gawp at the contents of the over-priced furniture store with its acres of white leather, and smoked glass. We laughed like country bumpkins at the strange ornaments, the dining chairs that looked more like upturned laundry baskets, the hideously clashing, but oh-so-carefully arranged cushions. And finally, when we'd wiled away enough time we made our way back to the pub.
It was still early, and we were the first to arrive, but gradually the place started to fill. We smiled indulgently at the two men who seemed so pleased to be meeting, their smiles as wide as the arms they threw around each other in their unembarrassed embrace. We invented stories about the tired-looking man, about the argument he'd had with his wife for staying out too late the night before and the revenge she was now exacting in making him overcome his hangover by taking his children out to lunch. We watched the old man with his white hair stained yellow by nicotine, as he wove backwards and forwards between the bar and the door, each pint followed by a cigarette. We winced with sympathy as the desperate-to-please young man opened the door for the girlfriend who responded with a look as cold as the air that accompanied her; and we were intrigued by the huge family who turned up trailing enormous suitcases behind them, who took ages finding the right place to sit and enough chairs for them all, then only stayed for one quick drink before trailing off again with their luggage.
All around us, people were coming together. I wondered if they'd noticed us, I hoped they weren't concerned when we looked up with anticipation each time the door swung open, or disappointed when we looked away again as another stranger walked in. I'd like to think they saw the moment when our friends arrived, when our faces lit with unabashed delight. I'd like to imagine that the stories they invented for us were of an afternoon spent eating and drinking, our words and laughter bubbling and tumbling over each other; I hope they saw the evening we'd spend, plotting and planning for new challenges and excitements, setting out on a new venture towards the happy ending I know we'll have.