29th February 2008. I asked Michael out. It was the last year of Uni and soon it would be the exams. Then we would all be going our separate ways: graduate schemes, years abroad, voluntary work. For the two of us, it would be the start of a lifetime working in hospitals.
We sat on bar stools in a local pub and I had a glass of beer.
‘One of my rules is that the first date should be short and cheap,’ he joked. But we were still talking when the bartender rang the bell.
29th February 2012. I finally asked Michael to move in. He’d been dropping hints about having his own key, about redecorating the lounge, about getting a new bed with his overtime money. With our jobs at the hospital we could easily afford the mortgage on the flat, even think about going up a rung on the property ladder.
‘Maybe we could start a family, one day,’ he said. And then I said I wasn’t prepared to have a Church wedding, because he didn’t properly believe in God. After that he wasn’t going to ask, or at any rate he left it on the long finger.
29th February 2016. I was definitely going to ask Michael to marry me. I finished my shift at the hospital early and stopped off at the hairdresser, wanting to look my best. There was a bottle of champagne in the fridge at home, had been for ages, although I thought I’d better not have any, not for the next few months anyway. There was so much to tell him, so much to plan for. We’d left it all on the back burner for too long, doing up the house, pursuing our careers, studying for exams. Any longer and it would be too late.
29th February 2020. It’s a rush to get to the nursery before it shuts. Anna’s three-and-a-half and still hasn’t learned that if Mummy goes to work in the morning she comes back in the evening. She clings to me as though she’d thought she’d never see me again. At last we get home and I bring her in from the car, do her supper, her bath, her bedtime story.
Then I sit at the kitchen table with a whisky, remembering how I came home four years ago to find that Michael was gone. Someone else had waited until the leap year to make him a proposal.