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Saturday, 30 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Zoe? What are you doing here?” Richard said.
“Need your credit card, Dad. You need blinds.”
“I do? Here let me introduce you to Marianne.”
“Ah, Marianne,” Zoe smile. “Dad hasn’t stopped going on about you. I need a drink. What can I get you both? I’m buying.”
Richard and Marianne both asked for a coffee.
“I’m a bit peckish,” Zoe said. “Either of you fancy one of those pasty things, they look good. Marianne and Richard both looked at each other and at the same time said: “Apple Danish!”

The End

I hope you enjoyed the A-Z Challenge 2016 as much as I did. I'm sorry if I couldn't get across to your blog but I hope to see you again soon! Oh and Congratulations on making it to the end!

Friday, 29 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

You came.” Richard rose from his seat and kissed Marianne on the cheek. “How was the rest of your day?”
“Just as dramatic.” Marianne sat down and let out a sigh. Richard closed the lid of his laptop. “You really sat here and worked all day?”
“I took a couple of hours off. Went to see how Zoe was getting on. She’s an interior designer and she’s been wanting to get her hands on that room for ages.”
It was in that moment when Richard smiled that wide smile of his that Marianne looked into those brown eyes and remembered how just a few hours ago they were filled with tears. And then it hit her. She knew why it was Richard had seemed so familiar to her. She’d seen him in a hospital car park. She’d been frantically searching for her car. She had also been crying. She’d come from the fertility suite after having been told that falling pregnant was now even less of a possibility than it had ever been. Her husband hadn’t even come with her for the appointment. But she remembered seeing the man in tears and wondering if his wife couldn’t conceive either. She’d wanted to go up to him then, put her arms around him and say, ‘I know exactly what you’re going through.’
That was three years ago and of course he hadn’t been coming from the fertility suite, he’d come from the oncology department. It was the day his wife, Caroline, had died.
Marianne squeezed his hand.
“What is it?” he said.
“Oh, nothing.” Marianne glanced out of the window. Striding towards the coffee shop was the girl from the selfie. The girl half Richard’s age. His daughter.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Xander Slater knocked on her door and entered. It was an hour since she’d spoken to Richard and she’d been expecting her boss to come up and reprimand her at any moment. It was only day two and she was already brining her personal life into the office.
He stood with one hand on the doorknob.
“You’ve got a visitor,” he said and looked at her, sternly.
“A visitor?” Marianne was confused. Xander stepped aside to reveal Jess standing behind him and looking sheepish.
“Sorry, Mari. I had to come and see you.”
Marianne looked at Xander, an apology plastered over her face. What must he think?
“Make it quick,” he said, ushering Jess in and closing the door.
Jess rushed over to Marianne who was now standing and hugged her.
“I’m sorry I let you down,” she sniffed. “Things just got out of hand. The children are just so demanding. So was Steven. I’d completely lost my identity and I wanted to find myself again.”
Marianne pulled away. “By cheating on your husband?”
“Don’t Mari. I know it was wrong of me. Steven is starting to forgive me, I hope you will too. I didn’t have anyone to turn to. I was lost.”
“You could have turned to me?”
“How could I? I had to be strong for you? You were falling to pieces, Mari. Your whole life was a mess and I owed it to you to be there. It’s just us two. Who else do we have?”
Marianne couldn’t speak. She looked at her sister, three years younger and she had always been the stronger of the two. When their parents died, Jess was the one who held Marianne and told her everything would be all right.
Overcome by a wave of guilt at her own selfishness, she grabbed Jess and squeezed her.
“How could I have been so blind? I sit on my high horse and I judge people. I know I do. I set standards for everyone to live by. Your life was the one I wanted. Happy marriage, children. I put you on a pedestal and that was wrong. I’m your big sister. You needed me and I let you down.” She looked into her sister’s eyes. “Today, everything changes. I promise. Whatever you need from me, Jess, you’ve got it.”
“You don’t know how glad I am to hear you say that.”

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

What is it Richard?” She put a hand on his arm. He blinked. The tears ran down his face and he quickly wiped them away.
“Forgive me,” he said. “It’s been three years. I haven’t reacted like that when someone mentioned my wife in a long time.”
“Richard … do you mean …?”
“Yes. Caroline died. Three years ago. Cancer. Last week would have been her birthday and Zoe was taking it badly. I had to go to Reading, cheer her up, you know?”
“Of course. Oh Richard I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to -”
“Look it’s okay. I understand where you’re coming from. A perfect stranger asks you to dinner, you see him out with some girl. Of course you’re suspicious.”
“But still, I should have been more tactful.”
“Look forget that, Marianne. Could we start again? Could we have coffee and then can I ask you out for dinner again?”
Marianne’s face broke into a wide smile. “I’d like that, but I do have to get back to work.” She gave a hurried look through the window of the gallery. Penny and Xander were still watching, drinking coffee and eating pastries as if she and Richard were starring in the latest box set of ‘Drama on Portobello Road.’
“I should get back, too,” Richard said. “I left a woman looking after my laptop. It could be gone by now and all my work too. I’ll be there all day. Zoe has decided to decorate my spare room so the coffee shop is my office for the day. Why don’t you pop in after work?”
“Four thirty?”
She went back inside the gallery and apologised to Xander. Penny followed her up to her office.
“Tell me everything,” she said.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

VAT returns,” Marianne said.
“I beg your pardon?” Richard replied.
“I have to get in and sort out the VAT returns.” Marianne went to push open the gallery door.
“Wait,” Richard said. “It’s not what you think.”
“Look we only had a coffee together, I didn’t expect you to make any commitments to me, but I thought that if you asked me to have dinner with you, you were at least not seeing someone else. It’s the decent thing or do people not care about that anymore? Am I so out of touch with life? Can’t anyone can be faithful for five minutes? Do you and she have this open relationship? Because I’m not into open relationships.”
“Neither am I. Marianne. That girl was my daughter. Zoe. She’s staying with me for a few days. I couldn’t leave her in Reading, she was in too much of a state. I’ve been looking after her.”
Now Marianne was speechless. She looked inside the gallery. Xander had his arms crossed and Penny was grinning.
“Look,” Richard said. “If you don’t want to have dinner, that’s one thing but honestly, there’s no one else.”
“You have a daughter and no wife?”
Richard looked down at his feet.
“So, that’s it. You have a wife at home and you tried to pretend you didn’t. I can’t believe this. I’m sick and tired of everyone lying to me. If you don’t mind I’m going in to get some work done. Those Vat returns won’t calculate themselves.”
Richard still said nothing and now that she had stopped ranting, Marianne could sense the chill in the air and the deathly silence despite the cars going by and the street beginning to fill with shoppers and tourists. Slowly, Richard raised his eyes to meet Marianne’s. The beautiful brown colour of his eyes was obscured by tears that had welled up and were about to spill over.

Monday, 25 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Up the road she flew and towards the art gallery. Marianne was sure she heard footsteps behind her and was sure Richard had followed her out of the coffee shop. She was right. Just at the door to the gallery he tapped her shoulder.
“Why the rush?” he asked her before she could push open the door.
“I had to get back to work.” She held up the bag of pastries as proof.
“But you left your receipt.” He held it out, she took it.
“Thanks. I should be getting back.”
Just then, Penny popped outside and took hold of the bag of baked goods. “I’ll take these and get the coffee on. You two just carry on.” Penny backed into the gallery giving Marianne a look that said, ‘You didn’t tell me your boyfriend looked like George Clooney.’
“I don’t want to get you into trouble,” Richard said as he watched the gallery door close behind Penny and noticed Xander hovering close by. “It’s just that …”
“That what?” Marianne said, also noticing Xander and wondering if he was cross. She couldn’t tell through the glass.
“It’s just that I do mind that you blew me off like that. I don’t get it,” Richard said. “I was looking forward to us going out for a meal this week.”
Marianne crossed her arms. She’d had enough of people lying to her. “And is that because the younger woman is out of town?”
“What younger woman?”
“Long dark hair, slim, gorgeous.”
Richard looked puzzled, or at least he was doing a good job of looking puzzled. Marianne continued.
“Are there that many you don’t know which one I mean? I’m talking about the one you took out to dinner on Friday night. Notting Hill Gate? I saw you get into a taxi with her. You kissed her.”
Richard’s mouth dropped open. He was caught out.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

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Good Luck and have fun everyone! 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

The next morning, Marianne ignored a call from Jess. She was still upset with her sister when she went into the gallery and offered to buy everyone a pastry. She was inundated with requests from all three of her colleagues and took herself off to the coffee shop and thought she’d get a large chocolate bar, too. She would grab at all the sweet things she could to try to get her out of the lousy mood she was in.
She walked into the coffee shop with her list and waited in the queue which was so long she wondered if everyone in it had also been let down by their only sister and needed to be cheered up on a Tuesday morning.
“Can I help you?” The girl behind the counter had rosy cheeks and the ends of her blonde hair was tinted blue. Marianne froze. There was a mirror behind the counter that she looked into for the first time that morning. It reflected the rest of the coffee shop; all the tables and chairs and all its customers. And there he was. Richard. He was sitting at the same table they’d shared just the week before, a laptop on the table in front of him and he was staring right at her.
She turned for a second. He didn’t smile this time. The woman behind Marianne huffed so she quickly stumbled through her order. When the girl with blonde, blue hair handed her the bag of pastries she took it and attempted to bolt out of the door.
Just a few paces from the door someone shouted: “Hey! Excuse me.” It was a female voice. Marianne didn’t turn around, she just headed out of the door but not before she heard the familiar voice of Richard, calling her name:

Friday, 22 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Sisters were meant to be able to talk weren’t they? To trust each other. Marianne had shared all her most intimate thoughts, her dreams her concerns, everything, with Jess and now she felt as if she didn’t know her. She was angry at how casually Jess took the whole situation. She took it in her stride as if it were nothing to be unfaithful, to jeopardise a marriage and have your own children’s future hanging in the balance. What if Steven had walked out on Jess? How would that have impacted on her three children?
Marianne arrived at the house hot and out of breath. It had been days since she last jogged and she could quite happily put her trainers on now and run and run and never stop. How could Jess, of all people, do this?
How many times had Marianne said she’d give up the rest of her life to have one year as a married woman with at least one child. She knew it was a stupid thing to have ever vowed. She and Iain had tried for nine years to have a child and Jess was taking her good fortune for granted.
Nothing was making sense. Marianne went straight to the fridge because she thought she had an opened bottle of white wine in there but she was mistaken. She grabbed a carton of juice, tipped back her head and kept on drinking until she felt physically ill.
She needed to talk to someone. Her go to person for helping her sort her head out had always been Jess. Who could she talk to now? Her mind went straight to Richard. To think she’d put Richard off because she wanted to be there for her sister, thought Jess needed her and that she could finally pay her back for all the late nights she’d spent crying herself to sleep on Jess’s sofa.
She was at a loss. She felt as though she’d lost her sister. Any chance to get to know Richard was lost too.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Richard seems nice enough, but I still can’t handle taking a risk. Finding I really like him and then being let down.” Marianne sat at the kitchen table while Jess loaded the dishwasher. Jess had poured them both a tall glass of white wine and came to join Marianne at the table. She put her hand on Marianne’s.
“Look Mari, why deny yourself even a moment’s pleasure. From what I can remember from the drunken haze I saw Richard through, he looked a nice person. Certainly good looking. And so what if it’s only one date? So what if you just have one night of rampant love making? Grab it with both hands. Live for the moment.”
“I should be saying the same to you, Jess.”
Jess sat up. “What are you talking about, Mari?”
“What you said at the weekend. I was worried about you. I’ve been out of mind thinking that you must be going through hell, bringing up three children when all the time your husband is cheating on you.”
Jess’s face fell. Marianne moved to the chair beside her.
“You can tell me, Jess. That’s what sisters are for. Sharing.” Jess covered her face with her hands. Her shoulders heaved up and down but she seemed to be weeping silently.
“That’s it, let it all out,” said Marianne. Jess looked up at her, red faced. She hadn’t been crying at all, but laughing.
“Silly, Marianne. Steven isn’t having an affair. I’m the one who had the affair.”
Marianne’s jaw fell open.
“Look I’m human okay?” Jess said. “It was a gym instructor. What can I say? I was bored. It lasted all of five minutes and I went and told Steven all about it. That’s why he stays away. He can’t bear to be with me, even though he said he forgave me. He can’t see passed it. I don’t blame him. I know it’ll take time.”
Marianne’s chair made a scraping sound on the kitchen floor as she stood.
“You cheated on Steven? You’ve had all the things I wanted and you messed it up for a a quick shag?”
“Don’t you start judging me, too. I’m not the one who drove everyone to distraction about fertility remember?”
Marianne grabbed her jacket and bag and raced to the door.
“I can’t talk to you now, Jess. I have to go.”
“Mari, wait. Do you hate me?”
Marianne didn’t reply. She closed the front door gently behind her and began to run the short distance home.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Quickly, she rang Jess. She’d tried all weekend to speak to her but Jess was evasive and kept putting her off; there was something in the oven, Tilly had broken the wheels off Lucas’s truck and all hell was breaking loose. All lies, Marianne knew. She needed an excuse to drop round to Jess’s. She was going to help her sister if it was the last thing she did.
“How’s life in the fast lane?” Jess asked her. She was as bright and chirpy as usual.
“Pretty good. I think I’m going to like it here.”
“I was just wondering, though, Richard just called and I told him I can’t have dinner with him.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I know how to date anymore. Can I pop over? I need to run this by someone.”
“Sure. Make it after nine, when the kids are in bed, otherwise we’ll never get a chance to talk. Also Steven is working late or has a meeting or something.”
“Sounds good, I’ll see you later.”
Good. She had her in. Now all she had to do was go round to Jess’s house and put everything right for her sister.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Perhaps. It’s the first day in my job and everything.” Marianne knew she was backtracking. Her head was telling her to just cut the whole thing off now before she got too carried away but her heart was telling her that she really wanted to be carried away – by Richard. He still sounded as sexy as hell, despite the girl from the selfie. Maybe she was just a fling that she could forgive him for. Maybe after they had dinner she could politely ask that he put all his cards on the table about seeing other people. Too heavy, she thought.
The whole situation was too heavy. She made a decision.
“You know something, Richard, my circumstances have changed. I really need to be here for my sister. She’s going through some stuff and I’m really not sure I’d be good company for dinner or anything else come to that. Is it okay if I take it back.”
“Take it back?”
“Yes, my decision to have dinner with you this week.”
“Well, sure, if you’ve got stuff to sort out. Maybe next week?”
“Well next week won’t do really.”
“Oh I see.” Richard let out a long breath. “It’s okay, Marianne, I get where you’re coming from. I won’t put you under any pressure, but …”
“I was just going to say, you’ve got my number if you change your mind.”
“I don’t have your number, Richard. I didn’t take it down when I had your phone as you obviously did mine. So I guess I won’t be calling you.”
“Oh, okay. Well then. I see … I think. It’s just I thought …”
“Goodbye, Richard.”
“’bye Marianne.”
She hung up.

Monday, 18 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

On Monday morning, Marianne was completely sober and ready to face her new job at Aries Art Gallery. Her boss, Xander Slater, still had clammy hands and greeted her at the door of the gallery.
“Nice to see you again, Marianne. Your office is all ready and I’ve got coffee on the go.”
“Wow, does that happen everyday?”
“No, coffee making is your domain after this welcome cup. We go in for the odd pastry every now and again. You don’t bake do you?”
Marianne looked at him, blankly.
“Just my little joke. Here’s your office.” Mr Slater opened the door to the little corner office she had spied very briefly on the day of her interview. Slater and Cuthbertson, the gallery owners, shared a larger office on the upper landing where there was also a cubby hole/staff room for the only other member of staff, a sales assistant called Penny. On Marianne’s floor there was a bathroom and a small kitchen.
Someone had left a bouquet of spring flowers on the desk in a large glass vase. Hyacinths, daffodils, tulips and primroses, bulged over the workspace and smelled divine.
“These are beautiful,” Marianne said.
“Again, don’t get used to it,” a voice said. Penny popped her head around the door. “Thought you might like something to mark the occasion. And don’t listen to Xander, coffee runs are shared, otherwise just grab your own when you fancy it.” She disappeared. Marianne heard her heels clacking on the marble steps down to the gallery.
“Right, Marianne, you settle in,” her boss said. “I’ll pop back in with that coffee and then I’ll help you get to grips with it all.”
“Great, thank you.”
Getting to grips with things was a lot easier than she’d imagined. She’d liked the idea of how simple the job would be. Marianne had had enough of brain melting sessions and late nights in the city. She imagined herself living out the rest of her working life here. The owners, and Penny were all around her age, late thirties, to mid forties, it was so close to home and very close to the delightful coffee shop and all the pastries she imagined herself trying in her coffee breaks.
The coffee shop, for the first time that day, made her think of Richard and, as if by magic, her phone rang and it was him.
“You sound shocked to hear from me.” Thoughts of the gorgeous girl he was with on Friday night were vivid now. She’d half planned to put a stop to having anything more to do with him. Her priority was her sister. But he was at the other end of the line, waiting for her to say something. What should she tell him?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Not knowing the extent of the rift between Jess and her husband Steven, plus the barrels of wine she must have consumed at Rick’s, made for a restless night for Marianne. She fell in and out of fitful sleep, worried about her sister, the children, and how she could help.
She got up before Jess and brewed some strong coffee. She was pouring a second mug when Jess appeared at the kitchen door.
“Who put the sun in the kitchen,” Jess said, shielding her eyes from the faint light coming through the blinds, and sat at the table. “Close the blinds.”
“They are closed,” Marianne said. “Here, have some of this, it’ll help.” She poured her sister some coffee.
“Have you got any sunglasses around here, Mari?”
“Here.” Marianne slid the sunglasses she’d been wearing earlier across the table. It wasn’t an unreasonable request by any means. “So?”
“So what?” Jess said gulping some coffee and letting out a satisfied ‘ah’.
“Do you want to talk about Steven?”
“Steven? Why?”
“Last night you said -”
“Forget last night. I was drunk. I haven’t a clue what what was going on. Did we see George Clooney?”
“We saw Richard, with the girl half his age. But forget that. I’ve been worrying all night about you.”
“Well stop. It’s under control and I don’t want to talk about it. I’ll get a shower and go. I promised the kids a trip to the cinema and McDonald’s. Probably fall asleep in the cinema but Steven’ll wake me when it’s over. Bit like our sex life really.” Her voice was light as she made her way to the door. She stopped and turned. “I’m kidding. You worry too much.”
As she disappeared, Marianne couldn’t help but worry. All those years of boring Jess senseless about her not being able to conceive, the divorce, finding a new job, and here was her sister crying out for help. She was overcome with guilt. The whole business with Richard was nothing. Her sister needed her.

Friday, 15 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Marianne gave up on trying to get from the taxi to her front door in heels. The stairs from the pavement leading up to the Georgian house seemed to be moving before her eyes and making her sea sick – shoes off was the way to go. Jess was hanging onto her shoulder and staggering beside her so it was hard to balance.
“I had a good night. Did you have a good night?” Jess bellowed in the downstairs hallway once Marianne had managed to turn the key in the lock. Marianne put a finger to her lips to shush Jess. There was a rule about late night and early morning arrivals and departures from the house, but Marianne’s shushing was louder than Jess’s voice.
The hobbled up the stairs and into Marianne’s flat, each heading for on of the leather, Ikea sofas that faced each other across the coffee table, and each crashing face down onto one.
“I hate men,” Jess said.
“Shouldn’t that be my line?” Marianne turned her head to look at her sister who had one arm and one leg trailing from the sofa onto the floor.
“At least you didn’t marry that George Clooney guy. At least you found out now he was a bastard and didn’t go and have three kids with him like I did.”
Marianne was silent.
“I’m sorry,” Jess said. “I’m drunk I don’t know what I’m saying. I didn’t mean -”
“It’s all right. I can’t expect people not to talk about babies, Jess, any more than I can expect Richard to be exclusive to me. Not after one coffee for crying out loud. Let’s get some sleep. You sure Steven is okay with you staying out all night? What about the kids?”
“To hell with Steven,” Jess said staggering to her feet. “He can sample what it’s like to sort out three screaming kids on a Saturday morning for a change. Besides. it’s not as if he hasn’t stayed out all night before. At least he knows where the hell I am.”
Marianne watched Jess make her way to the bathroom. She never imagined for one second that Jess was unhappy in her marriage. She’d always seen getting married and having children as the be all and end all of life. But as she heard her sister throwing up in the loo for the next five minutes, she realised that her situation with Richard Howell was not life threatening.
Maybe she could meet him for dinner next week. After all, didn’t she deserve an explanation?

Thursday, 14 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Look, there must be some sort of explanation, Mari.” Jess seemed to be sobering up fast.
“Yes, he’s a fraud. A gigolo. A bastard. Well he can forget dinner next week. If he ever intended to call.”
Just then, Richard hooked his arm around the shoulder of the girl from the selfie, who was definitely half his age, and kissed her cheek before hailing a taxi. One stopped immediately and the pair of them hopped in after sharing a joke.
“Maybe I’m an experiment,” Marianne said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I told you he writes a lifestyle column. Maybe he’s writing one called, ‘How to Get Your Cake and Eat it Too’. Well whatever, dude.”
“’Whatever dude?’” Jess pulled a face and watched her sister grab the bottle of wine and top their glasses to the brim. The waiter came back with another bottle and a plate of chunky chips. Jess smiled and thanked him.
The DJ cranked up a loud tune while Marianne sat and glugged down at least a third of her glass of wine. She grabbed a chip.
“Let’s dance!” She had to raise her voice. She shoved a hot chip in her mouth and immediately spat it out. “Shit – that’s hot.”
“Well duh,” Jess scoffed. Marianne grabbed her sister’s arm and pulled her to the space beside the DJ and began dancing for all she was worth.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Keep this up and I’m going to have to carry you out of here. That is, if they don’t kick us out first.” Marianne and Jess had sat at a table of the huge glass façade of Rick’s in Notting Hill Gate. They’d gotten there for Happy Hour at Jess’s insistence and had made full use of the buy one get one half price deal that ended at seven thirty. It was now a little after ten and Jess was not only slurring her words but was slumped sideways on the table supporting her head with her hand, her elbow on the table.
“Should we go?” Marianne asked her. Jess sat up with a start.
“The night it is young. I thought we could hit a club after this.”
“The only thing you’ll be hitting is the Alka Seltzer,” Marianne told her. “I’d hate to be your head in the morning.”
“You’ve been putting quite a bit away yourself you know?”
“ I know but at least I can still see straight. And I’ve eaten.”
“Oh let’s get some food. I’m starving.” Jess waved her arm at a passing waiter. “Oi mate! You still serving food?” The waiter checked his watch and came over.
“Only bar snacks until ten-thirty. What can I get you?”
“A plate of chips or something,” Jess slurred. “And another bottle of this.” She waved their half full bottle at him. The waiter nodded and turned away. “He’s nice.” Jess grinned, her eyes half shut.
“Since when did our boarding school upbringing allow us to say ‘Oi mate’?” Marianne said. “You sound like a moron. Why did you order more drink? Or food come to that. They’ll be closing soon.”
“No. Late licence. Look a DJ is setting up.”
“Oh God no.”
“Don’t be so old and boring,” Jess crooned. “And why won’t you tell me more about this George Clooney dude?”
“There’s nothing more to say except …”
Marianne’s words died on her lips. At the very point of Jess saying the name ‘George Clooney’ she saw Richard step out of a restaurant across the road. She could see him as clear as day, despite the time. He picked up the girl in the selfie by her slim waist and swung her around.
As if that wasn’t enough, he was giving her that wide smile of his.
“What’s wrong Mari? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Jess said, looking out of the window, too.
“It’s him,” Marianne stuttered.
“George Clooney. I mean Richard. He’s hugging that girl.”

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Just before answering, Marianne put the pastry down. How can anyone take you seriously with sticky, baked goods in your hand anyway?
“Richard, I’d love to go out with you.” She hadn’t exactly finished what she was going to say. There was a ‘but’ but she didn’t get time to say it. Richard had responded immediately she spoke.
“That’s great! Maybe one evening next week?”
“I, um …”
Richard put both hands up. “I won’t bring my phone. In fact let me turn it off now.” He pressed the off button but only after glancing at the list of texts that had been coming through for the whole time they’d been there. “That’s it. Off. Now where were we?”
Where they were was right in the middle of making a date. They carried on chatting, mainly small talk. Marianne got so swept up in the warmth and good humour Richard exuded, she forgot about selfies, twenty year old girls and she didn’t think about her uterus once.
Richard would call her, they’d set a time and a place and they’d meet for dinner. It was as simple as that. She’d given an Apple Danish answer, despite the initial hesitation, and didn’t regret it. Not until later that night of course.
On Friday night, Richard was about to give Marianne a reason why she should not, definitely not, have dinner with him.

Monday, 11 April 2016

A - Z Challenge [2016]

Is it okay if I take this?” he asked.
She nodded and held her coffee cup to her lips while staring out of the window, pretending not to mind. Richard grunted a couple of ‘Yes’s’ and No’s’.
“Look I can’t talk now, I’ll see you tonight,” he said. She glanced at him quickly to see if he looked pleased to be seeing whoever it was tonight. She was sure she heard a female voice and she was sure he’d softened his voice when he made the promise to ‘see you tonight’ to whoever was on the end of the line. The girl half his age or …?
“Richard are you married?”
“No. Are you?”
“No I’m not. I just wanted to check. I mean ask you. It’s not that you’re about to propose to me or anything. It’s coffee. I mean maybe you just want to be friends but, I mean, I just wanted to ask. You know what I mean?”
He smiled.
“Don’t laugh at me,” Marianne said.
“Never. I’m not married. I made an assumption you weren’t married and I thought you had of me. I was hoping you weren’t because I wanted to …” He broke away and gave one of his wide smiles.
“Because what?” she asked.
“Because I wanted to ask you out. I mean proper, like dinner or something.”
Marianne was stunned. It was exactly what she’d wanted him to do. She was about to leap ahead and answer yes when the small matter of the young girl in the selfie jumped into her mind. She opened her mouth, about to answer but said nothing. Just stared at him with half a Danish pastry in her hand.
“Well?” he said. “Are you going to answer me or what?”

Saturday, 9 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

How she could have doubted him, she had no idea. Richard was already at the coffee shop when she arrived in her Miss Sixty jeans and a similarly styled courier bag to the one Richard had been carrying. For the first time she wondered what was in the bag and again, wondered what he did for a living – if anything. How was he able to be at the coffee shop at time of day? Self-employed maybe?
“Marianne!” His smile was wide and bright. He stood as soon as she approached. He wore a white t-shirt with a design she couldn’t quite make out without staring at his chest for an overly-long time and decided that would look weird. She made eye contact.
“Hi, Richard. I thought I might be having coffee on my own again.”
“No, a promise is a promise. I was looking forward to seeing you again. Latte?”
Marianne nodded. She was sure he checked out the cut of her jeans and the way the cerise t-shirt looked on her. It was her colour, she knew that. “Would you like a pastry?” he asked.
“I shouldn’t, I didn’t run this morning.”
“Oh you run, too. So do I, around Ladbroke Square, mostly.”
“No way – so do I!”
“Apple Danish or Cinnamon Swirl?” he asked and they both answered “Apple Danish,” at the same time and laughed.
Up at the counter, Richard queued up but kept looking back at Marianne. Marianne, who hadn’t been able to take her eyes off him, blushed every time he looked over. He returned with a tray of goodies and set it down with such poise and elegance, she wondered if maybe his line of work was in the restaurant business.
“I was curious to know what you did, Marianne,” he said before sipping his coffee. “I mean, you’re off during the day. Are you self-employed, like me?”
“I was unemployed, for quite some time now but I’m starting a new job on Monday. Aries Art Gallery on Portobello Road.”
“You’re an artist?”
“Nothing so exciting. I’m an accountant. Basically I’ll be running their office and keeping on top of their finances.”
“I see. I’m sure it’ll keep you busy. I think they make a fortune there.”
“No need to fake being impressed. Isn’t accountancy supposed to be the most boring job in the world?” She held up a finger. “Don’t answer that. What about you? Unemployed or self-employed?”
“Self. I’m a copy editor and I also have a column in the Sunday Telegraph magazine.”
Marianne almost choked on her latte. “That’s amazing. I don’t take that paper but I’m sure there are journalists who’d kill to be in that position. What’s your column about?”
“Oh lifestyle mainly.” His phone rang. Those annoying bells again. He hesitated before answering. Was he about to ditch her again? At least he’d actually bought the coffee this time.

Friday, 8 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Getting on with her life until Friday morning and acting as if coffee with Richard was just a casual arrangement, was not as easy as Marianne thought it might be. She was restless and agitated. True she hadn’t been on a date in a long time, but she convinced herself it wasn’t a date. She hadn’t even met anyone casually for coffee in a long time either.
He seemed to have been the first of many to start the defrost of the icy exterior she’d put up around her to stop anyone coming close. Marianne was near enough a recluse when it came to friendships. She knew it was wrong of her but she always hated that moment when a conversation with anyone got round to the question of whether she had children or why she didn’t have them. It happened too often for her liking. Being out of work had fuelled the loner existence but her savings account had seriously depleted and she had no choice but to return to work.
The art gallery job would save her life. Maybe it was the euphoria at knowing that she could make the mortgage payments let her drop her guard for the two seconds it took for Richard to start melting away some of the ice.
She did like him, in a romantic way, but not only that, there was something warm about him, something gentle. Of course there was still that nagging feeling she’d known him from somewhere before, but she satisfied herself that it was just because she wanted to get to know him that made him all the more familiar.
On Thursday evening she ran herself a long bath. Rest and relaxation was what she needed after two hours of deciding what to wear for their coffee the next morning. Silly, she thought to herself. it’s not a date – it’s just coffee. All the same, a pair of Miss Sixty jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt in cerise, she’d bought from Portobello market that day, were hanging over the back of her chair, all ready for the morning.
All she had to do now was sink into the rose and vanilla scented bath and relax. She closed her eyes and smiled then shot bolt upright in the bath – what if he didn’t show up?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

For the rest of the morning Marianne pottered around the shops and stalls on Portobello Road. She knew them all so well by now but some of the stall holders managed to surprise her with some new trinkets and shiny things that she’d love to have in her flat but that she knew wouldn’t fit in. Her phone rang and she jumped. It was Jess.
“So are we celebrating or what?” Jess sounded as bubbly as usual.
“Your new job?”
“It’s no biggy.”
Marianne’s younger sister had three children under the age of eight and very rarely went out. She knew that celebrating with Jess probably meant an invitation to dinner with her unruly children.
“I’m just taking it in my stride,” Marianne said. “Psyching myself up for being a worker bee again. No need to celebrate.”
“I mean a proper night out, Mari. You and I deserve one. How about Friday night?”
“Well …”
“I know you’re not booked.” Jess must know better than anyone that Marianne had no real friends to speak off. One by one they’d all had children and one by one Marianne managed to alienate them all. After her divorce all the friends she’d shared with Iain seemed to gravitate towards him. She wasn’t surprised. She’d become nothing but a uterus on speed, and a rubbish uterus at that. She literary only talked about ovaries, eggs, sperm and temperature charts whenever she met anyone. It was the easiest way to lose friends.
“Actually I do have something on, on Friday morning,” Marianne said and began to tell Jess about her brief encounter with Richard.
“It sounds like a date, Mari.”
“It’s not a date. It’s just coffee. And besides, I might not even show up.”
“But why? He sounds gorgeous.”
“Jess, he might be seeing someone and I really don’t know anything about him.”
“Well how will you ever know if you don’t go?”
“And what if he never shows up?”
“And how will you ever know if you don’t either?”
Jess had a good point. Was Richard, the George Clooney lookalike and the man she had a serious crush on, really worth all this aggravation? Should she actually turn up on Friday morning?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Eleven o’clock on the dot, the tall stranger entered the coffee shop. Casually dressed again in dark jeans and a navy crew neck sweater with a white t-shirt circling a strong neck, his leather courier bag slung over his shoulder. She noticed again how broad he was and seemed a lot taller than two days ago. She put his age somewhere between forty-five and early fifties, but well preserved and fit. Marianne didn’t fall into the trap of having a casual morning this time. Like the morning of her interview, she’d had an outfit lined up and she’d missed her jog so she’d have time to blow dry her hair.
He smiled as he approached and waved her phone in front of her before sitting in the seat opposite and smothering her in a wave of delicious aftershave.
“Marianne, I’m really sorry about yesterday, it was unavoidable.”
“That’s okay. I don’t suppose my phone rang much. Jess is the only one who calls me these days.” She looked at her phone and discovered one text from her sister, Jess. “Oh and here’s your phone.” She pulled his out of her bag.
“Thank you so much. What can I get you?”
“A latte for me, um …?”
“I’m sorry. It’s Richard. Howell. Nice to meet you Marianne – properly that is.” He extended a hand. It was warm, gentle. She wondered what he did for a living. She wondered what the girl half his age did. Was she the unavoidable situation that kept him in Reading for an extra night? She checked out his ring finger. Not married. Or at least he didn’t wear a ring.
“I’ll get our coffees. Can you stay a while?” he asked and held a wide smile.
“Yes. I’m a lady of leisure today.” She felt herself grinning and immediately blushed.
Richard was at the counter and that feeling of recognition came over her again. For a second she thought she’d remembered who he was but then it was gone. Perhaps it was the George Clooney thing, maybe that’s why she thought she knew him. His phone rang and he stepped away from the counter to take it. He looked over at Marianne as he spoke and then turned away. She thought she saw his cheek redden and caught a few words: Don’t say that. I can’t keep doing this. Of course I love you.
Richard hung up and suddenly turned in her direction, walking back to her with a strange look on his face.
“You’re going to hate me,” he said, sitting down. “I was hoping to make a good impression. I thought I sensed a connection the day …” his voice trailed off.
“You mean I’m not getting that coffee and you have to go again?” Marianne said.
“I’m sorry.” He dropped his head.
“Just go. We got our phones back.”
“Marianne will you have coffee with me on Friday morning?” He put a hand up. “Don’t answer now. I’ll be here, come hell or high water. I need to sort something out and I promise I won’t let you down. Maybe you think I’m a complete loser but I think there’s something going on here and I don’t want to ignore it. If you feel the same, I’ll see you Friday.”
He walked away and Marianne was left with her mouth open. Yes, she’d felt the connection. It was true. But how could she turn up in two days time in the hope of meeting such a flake? Was this some kind of joke? Was he about to break up with the half his age girlfriend in favour of Marianne? She very much doubted it. All she knew was that Richard looked really sincere about wanting to see her. What should she do?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Damn it. How did it get so late. Ten-thirty and Marianne was furiously turning on the shower taps. Since quitting her high-powered city job her mornings had become a lot more leisurely. She woke late, read a newspaper after a slow jog in the park and then took a long shower. This morning, although aware of her meeting with George Clooney, she lost herself in a morning television debate and forgot the time.
Like her new job, the coffee shop was practically around the corner, but she didn’t want to arrive with wet hair, flushed cheeks and no time to put on her BB cream. GeorgeClooney had sounded official (as well as sexy) and she didn’t want to keep him waiting. A quick exchange of phones and that would be it. Except, of course, if she could resist trying to squeeze some information out of him. This time she’d look for a wedding ring.
At two minutes past eleven, Marianne arrived at the coffee shop with his phone. He wasn’t there so she was glad not to have been late. She formed an arch with her fingers to peer inside the coffee shop in case he’d meant for her to go in, but there was no sign of him.
Bloody hell. All that rushing around was for nothing. But when it got to half past eleven, Marianne was thoroughly pissed off. She clicked his phone on again. Flicking past the screensaver she saw tons of missed calls and three voicemail messages. Without hesitating she listened to them. The first two were from guy called Jack who wanted to know, first of all, if golf was on and then called to cancel golf because Julia was being a bitch.
The third message was for her:
“If you’re the gorgeous woman from the coffee shop, I’m really sorry. I’m still in Reading. There was a bit of a crisis. I kept calling my number hoping you’d pick up but I guess you switched it off. If you get this, please can we do this same time tomorrow? I promise to be there. Meet me inside. Coffee is on me.”
What the hell? Marianne sent a text to her own phone saying:
“Yes I’ll see you tomorrow at eleven. It’s Marianne by the way.”

Monday, 4 April 2016

#A-Z Challenge [2016]

Curiosity got the better of her. Maybe something about his phone could reveal who this stranger was. She sat staring at the black screen of his Sony Xperia, the exact make and model as her own. What the hell. She pressed the silver button on the side to turn it on. A screensaver came up. There was the tall stranger, sitting in a garden with a woman half his age.
It was obviously a selfie. The two of them had been sharing a picnic or something in what looked like a country garden. He had a massive smile on his face and so did the girl. Long chestnut hair cascaded down one side of her face, large blue eyes and a fake pout into the camera. Typical, Marianne thought. Her husband, or ex-husband, had done exactly the same thing after the divorce. Found himself a twenty year old while Marianne was left alone with thirty-nine year old, disagreeable eggs that were dangerously close to their Use By Date.
Maybe this guy was divorced. He could be having an affair for all she knew. Nevertheless, she had to meet him to return his phone. She turned the thing off and chastised herself for being so hopeful about meeting this man again. She had felt an instant attraction. Marianne imagined that a lot of women would. He had that George Clooney look about him that no woman would sniff at. Unless she hated George Clooney, of course, but Marianne wondered if anyone could.
She had definitely felt something stir when she saw him and that hadn’t happened in ages. Had she imagined he felt the same? She thought he’d looked interested but he was so curt on the phone. Anyway there was the matter of the rest of the Apple Danish to get to and then shopping. Her new job started on the following Monday. She had a week to relax.
Eleven o’clock the next morning would come around soon enough and then she could decide how much, if anything, she’d want to know about this George Clooney lookalike.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

A - Z Challenge [2016]

Balancing a tray containing a large café latte and a huge Apple Danish on a side plate, with her phone still in her hand and her handbag slipping off her shoulder, Marianne found herself a table in the corner. She shoved her phone into her bag, made herself comfortable and prepared to stuff a sizeable bite of the the pastry into her mouth.
Bells. All of a sudden she could hear bells and gazed out of the window in search of a church spire. There wasn’t one. But the bells didn’t stop and they seemed to be coming from her bag.
Chewing a mouthful of pastry she opened the bag and saw her phone flashing. She didn’t remember changing her ring tone. She answered quickly, because everyone in the coffee shop was staring at her.
“You’ve got my phone,” a husky voice said from the other end.
“I’ve got what?”
“I think we switched them when we bumped into each other in the coffee shop doorway.” There was a lot of noise in the background from his end. Marianne smiled.
“Oh I’m so sorry,” she said. “I can meet you – swap back.”
“I’m at Paddington, about to jump on the eleven:fifty-two.”
“Spending the night in Reading. Tomorrow? Same place? Eleven o’clock? I’m not due back until about ten.”
“Absolutely. I’ll be here. I can get you that coffee I owe you.” She felt ridiculous the moment the words came out of her mouth.
“It’s my train. See tomorrow. It might ring quite a bit. Better turn it off.”
He hung up and was gone.

Friday, 1 April 2016

A - Z Challenge [2016]

Apple Danish or cinnamon swirl? Decisions, decisions. One thing was for sure, Marianne deserved to treat herself after the gruelling half hour interview for a job she could do in her sleep. She’d been out of work for over a year, thinking a break from the workplace would bring her the baby that she and Iain had tried for five years to conceive. But all it brought was heartbreak and an acrimonious divorce.
The interview for Office and Accounts Manager was in a boutique art gallery at the top of trendy Portobello Road. Not only had the interview gone well, the clammy handed, Xander Slater had given her the job on the spot. She smiled at her reflection in the coffee shop window and got out her phone to call her sister, Jess, who whooped with delight when she heard the news.
Apple Danish it was. Pushing open the coffee shop door with a flourish, she not only bumped into a tall stranger but sent everything he was carrying up into the air and down onto the ground between them, including her mobile phone.
“I’m so, so sorry,” Marianne stuttered, bending down to gather his papers and her phone. He knelt too and retrieved his wallet. The lid of his coffee had popped off and a stream of black fluid was trailing off the step and onto the pavement.
“It’s not your fault, I should have been looking where I was going.” His voice was hoarse, like he’d had a cold. It gave him this rugged, sexy edge. When Marianne looked up into his eyes there was something familiar yet intriguing about their particular shade of brown.
Marianne and the stranger got to their feet as a shop assistant rushed over to the door with a mop in hand.
“No harm done,” the stranger said, shoving papers into a leather, courier-style bag.
“But, your coffee,” Marianne said as they both stood.
“It’s all right, you can owe me one.” He waved and rushed off. Where had she seen him before? She knew he looked familiar, but why?
She would love to have bought him another coffee, but how was she ever going to run in to him again?