Story for you to enjoy

This story is one of the first I wrote. I have improved since writing it but I thought you might like to see it anyway.

 

A  TRIP TO REMEMBER        by Linda Lewis

 

“It’s positive Mrs Rook. May I be the first to congratulate you.”

The robot’s  voice was flat  True, you could say anything to a robot without embarrassment, but it felt odd to see no reaction in the doctor’s eyes. A human doctor would have smiled, knowing how much she wanted this baby. The robot relayed the information like a shipping forecast.

“Do you want to know the sex?” asked Doctor Jackson

“No thank you. I’ll wait and see.”

“As you wish”. A low hum told her the machine had updated its records. “Please make an appointment for six weeks time. “ The robot’s eyes turned from deep red to yellow. It was retrieving the next patient’s records. The interview was over.

Jane left the room in a daze. At last, after eleven years she’d finally done it! Dean would be thrilled.

She punched in her ID number at a terminal to arrange her next appointment. As confirmation, the machine printed out a card with the date and time of her appointment, along with the doctor’s name. As usual this made her smile. All the robot doctors were identical, but to make people feel more at ease, they had different names. Some people chose to see the same doctor each time, although how you could tell them apart without the  name badge, she had no idea.

Suddenly Jane felt her joy about to burst, like an overripe tomato. At the exit she shouted, “I’m pregnant.”

Just  one old lady took any notice. “That’s nice dearie,” she said,  without taking her eyes from the giant TV screen.

On the monorail home, Jane decided not to tell Dean about the baby, until they were on holiday.

When it was found to be of no commercial use for its minerals, the moon was turned into a vast leisure complex, better than anything found on earth. It had taken two years on the waiting list for their turn to come.

Moondreams, or so the advertising maintained, had all you needed to make holiday wishes come true. Beaches, calm seas, huge shopping complexes, wildlife reserves, copies of earth landmarks so good they were impossible to tell from the real thing, and all under vast invisible domes. . She’d tell  Dean about the baby there.

Jane was home in minutes.

“Mrs Rook, 348684,” she said as she approached the apartment. The tiny electronic brain, no bigger than an apple, which controlled the security of the entire block recognised her voice and the door of her flat slid silently open. The robot maid SU22213 (Sue for short) was there to greet her.

At times Jane found it hard to think of Sue as a machine. She made a better companion than some humans and was far more reliable. Jane sighed, life was certainly made easy in 2019.

At exactly 18.06, as usual, Dean materialised in the transporter.  It was a huge perk and meant they could live outside the crowded city. Jane refused to use it. The thought of her atoms disintegrating and being reassembled somewhere else frightened her to death. Dean did his best to explain it to her, but all she could think of was a story she’d read as a child. A man experimented with matter transference and his atoms got mixed up with those of a beetle, or spider, or something equally horrible.

Dean  laughed when she told him,. “That story’s ancient, “ he said. “Written when nobody knew about transportation.” She tried to laugh with him but the fear remained. In a few days she’d have to face her terror. There was no other way to get to the moon.

“Had a good day?” she asked as she greeted him with a big hug. They’d been married for eleven years, yet she still got a tingle when she looked at him. How unfair it was that even in the 21st century, men  aged better than women.

“Fine. How about you? ”

She gazed at Dean’s dark hair and long eyelashes and imagined what their baby might look like. Maybe a girl with Dean’s hair and her own china blue eyes, but somehow after waiting for so many years, it didn’t seem to matter.

With difficulty she kept her secret safe. Instead she teased Dean about his intolerance to pain of any kind.

“You should have seen the size of the needle they use to inoculate me for the trip, ”she lied.

How such a big man could be such a baby over pain, she couldn’t imagine, but it made her love him all the more.

On the morning of the trip, Jane woke early after a troubled night. Dreams of her clothes split into tiny pieces and thrown back together, all mixed up, had haunted her. As they stepped on board the autocar, she shuddered.

“You’re not still nervous are you? “ asked Dean.

“Yes . I had dreadful nightmares. All my dresses had trouser legs!  I’m sure something terrible’s gong to happen. “ She clung to Dean’s arm for comfort.

He smiled at her. “That sounds funny, not  frightening.  I use transporters every day, and I’m OK aren’t I?”

She nodded and tried to return his smile. “I know.  I’m just being silly.”
Soon they were in the cubicle. Gingerly Jane touched the cold white wall. She shivered. It was

dark except for the dull red glow of the indicator panel. A faint hum was followed  moments later by a green light.

“We must be there already”

The words were Dean’s but the voice was Jane’s. The couple stared at each other in horror. It was like looking in a mirror. Somehow, during transfer, they’d swapped bodies.

The robots at Moondreams knew what had happened and ushered the couple away to a private office. The transport manager, a grade GG1 robot outlined the situation.

“There’s been an unexpected malfunction. The company regrets the incident and will make an immediate, no strings payment of 500,000 credits. We hope the situation will correct itself on the return trip, although that seems unlikely .“ The robot continued its apologies and explanations but the shocked couple missed most of what was said.

They were taken to a luxurious suite.

“Please,  enjoy your stay. Scientists are working on the problem right now.  Meanwhile, Moondreams is at your disposal, completely free of charge.”

Left alone, the mixed up holidaymakers sat for ages in complete silence. As last Dean said grimly, “At least we’re married. Just imagine if we were just good friends.”

Jane giggled. “I’m sorry Dean but you  sound so funny talking like that. It’s like I’m talking to myself.”   They laughed, hollow laughs. “Let’s look on the bright side, we’re rich, and we might swap back on the way home, “ continued Jane. She squeezed Dean’s dainty, feminine hand.

“Yes, you’re right. After all, it didn’t hurt a bit, “said Dean, “ and it could have been worse. You might have  been  pregnant!”

1160 words

IF YOU WOULD LIKE FEEDBACK ON YOUR WORK, PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING

 

 

I have sold more than a thousand stories to various magazines around the world and know the markets very well.

If you have written a short story aimed at a specific market (or a competition) and would like feedback before submitting it, why not try my £10 feedback service? I will give you my honest feedback and point out any areas that may need work as well as offering possible solutions.

Or, if you have a story that has been rejected, and you’re not sure why, I can have a look and tell you what needs to be done to improve it.

Please note that the £10 fee applies to stories under 2000 words.

Please email your story to lindatorbay@yahoo.co.uk and pay the £10 fee using the Paypal button below.

Critique Service Payment
Your Email Address:

LINDA

An Example of my Work

Here’s a holiday story to remind us that it’s not all sunny when we go away…….

WISH YOU WERE HERE

 

Monday 10 a.m. I’m having a wonderful time!  Blue skies, blue sea. I’m in Room 426, on the fourth floor. There’s a fabulous view. Wish you were here.’

I pushed the postcard with its picture of the Sapphire Seas hotel, into the postbox, with a sigh. At least some of what I’d written was true.

I looked up at the unbroken sky. Not a cloud, anywhere. It was already thirty–three degrees. Some like it hot, but not me. If it gets above thirty I’m done for. All I can do is retreat into the shade and wilt.

Five more days stretched out in front of me. I turned back towards the hotel, each step an effort. Climbing the four flights of stairs to my room was almost too much for me. I’d showered less than an hour ago, but already felt in need of another one.

I pushed open the door of my tiny room and the garish décor rushed out to greet me. Giant red and orange flowers clambered over the walls, making the room seem even hotter. I twiddled the knobs on the air conditioning unit and was rewarded with a throaty splutter, but nothing actually happened. I gave up and flung open the window onto the balcony. At least there might be a breeze.

I sat on the red plastic chair and looked at the uninspiring view – lots of balconies, and windows into other tiny rooms.

My thoughts drifted home. Again I relived the row that had brought me to Tenerife.

“Look Barry,” I said. “I’m fed up taking all our holidays in Britain. It’s time we started going abroad. You said we would, once the children were grown up.”

He smiled his lopsided smile. “We could go to Jersey, It’s warmer there.”

“Yes, but for the same money we could go to –  Tenerife.” That was the first destination that popped into my head. Hardly very original.

Barry looked at me as if I were a small child, asking for her third ice cream. “But Diana, it can get very hot there and you, well, you’re not very good in the heat, now are you?”

“What do you mean?” I said “Not very good.”

Barry hesitated. He knew he’d already said too much. “You know, you get a bit,” he searched for an inoffensive word, “unreasonable.”

Well that did it. I told him just how unreasonable I could be. If he didn’t want to go to Tenerife, I’d go on my own. I stormed out of the house, went to the travel agents and booked one of their last minute holidays.

Even as I signed the booking form, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. In  twenty–two years of marriage, we’d spent  less than ten nights apart. Six of those were when I was in hospital having the children.

Of course, Barry was a dear, which didn’t help one little bit. He helped me pack, bought me sunscreen. Took me to the airport, saw me off with a big hug and a kiss. I knew I’d made a mistake the second I stepped off the plane. Even though it was gone midnight, the temperature was still in the thirties.

It served me right for acting on impulse. I should have found out more about the place first, but I’d said Tenerife, so Tenerife it had to be.  The scenery didn’t help either. I like a spot of greenery. Trees, and lush foliage, but all I’d seen so far was desert like. Rocks, prickly pear cactus plants by the thousand, rocks, banana plants by the million, and more rocks. And it was so HOT.

Apparently I’d chosen a week when the wind was blowing in from the Sahara meaning it was  not only hotter than usual, but every whisper of breeze carried its own bucketful of sand.

I spent my days wishing I was at home. Too hot to do anything but sit and wait for the temperature to fall. Ten minutes outside and I would have been burnt like a slice of toast forgotten under the grill.

Each evening I waited until it became cool enough for me to venture out. Then I walked down to the sea front. ‘An easy stroll’ it had said in the brochure. A twenty minute hike more like it. Still, at least the beach was as I’d imagined it. Blue waters lapping on clean, golden sand. At least my resort had the right colour sand. On most other parts of the island it was a sooty black.

A palm lined avenue followed the coast line, the sea on one side, row upon row of restaurants on the other. Everywhere I looked there were couples. Couples with arms entwined, couples giggling, couples arguing. Being in love, or just being.

The days passed, slowly. I sent another postcard.

‘Having a great time. Weather still hot and dry. Hope you’ll be able to meet me. Can’t wait to see you again. ’

At last, I was back in frosty old England. I’d never been so pleased to feel cold in my life.

As I entered the baggage hall I spotted Barry straightaway. It was all I could do to stop myself bursting into tears. I was so pleased to see him.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said, as he wrapped me in his arms.

I told him all about the holiday on the ten mile ride home. All about the wonderful food, the cheap delicious local wine, the blue blue seas. I left out all the bad bits, like sandstorms and giant beetles. My ghastly room and the endless, pounding discos. The broken lift and the useless air conditioning. I had no intention of letting  him know what a miserable time I’d had. After all, he’d never go to Tenerife.

When we got home he sat me down, fetched me tea, and a slice of my favourite Dundee cake.

“I’m sorry we fought,” I said, feeling rather guilty. “I shouldn’t have gone away on my own like that.”

“Don’t apologise Diana. I was being selfish. If you want to go abroad, then we will.”

“I don’t mind where we go,” I said.  “So long as we’re together.”

“Sssh,” he said, as he covered my hand with his. “It was my fault and I’m going to make it up to you. – in fact I’ve already booked our next holiday – abroad.”

“Really! That’s marvelous. When? Where?”

“First two weeks in September. We’re going to” – he paused for effect – “Tenerife.”

“Great!” I said as my heart sank.

“We’re staying at the Sapphire Seas Hotel.”

My heart sank further.

“I’ve even managed to book the same room, so I’ll get to see that marvelous view. Isn’t that wonderful?”

I sighed., took a deep breath. There was nothing else for it.  “That’s very thoughtful Barry,” I said, “only there’s something I have to tell you…”

 

 

I was asked recently which one of my stories is my favourite. It was hard to choose, but I ended up with this one. As often happens with my stories, it’s told from a man’s point of view. It’s the only story I’ve ever managed to sell to the USA.

 

THE VENUS FLY TRAP                  by Linda Lewis

 

As I finish setting up the projector and the screen, Mrs Willis addresses the audience.

“I’d like to introduce our speaker for this evening. Please give a warm welcome to Mr Alan French, who will be speaking about his life long love of insectivorous plants.”

I thank the chairlady and accept the polite, but faint, applause.

I know how disappointed they must be. They were expecting Vincent Vanderburgh, local author of a popular cookery book. He comes down with the flu, and they end up with a last minute replacement – me. I press on regardless.

“Good evening Ladies. Tonight I’m going to talk to you about that most interesting group of plants, ones that gain nourishment by trapping and digesting insects. This is a family of plants which anyone can keep, and which will reward their owner with their fascinating and unusual behaviour.”

I can’t say the ladies of the West Yorkshire Women’s Group look very  keen, but I continue anyway. As I speak,  I can’t help noticing there are a few squirms and winces. That’s the trouble with carnivorous plants,  you can’t say much about them without mentioning insects.

I’ve given this talk so many times, I don’t need any notes. I prefer to look ahead rather than at a script. It helps me to project my voice better.  I usually try to focus on one person; preferably someone who looks interested.

My gaze wanders up and down the rows of chairs, looking for somewhere to rest. Already one or two ladies are looking bored. After scanning every face in the room I can find only one person  who seems remotely interested – a lady, in the front row.

I focus on her.

She’s the kind of woman who would make a good criminal, no witness would ever recognise her – average height, average weight, shortish medium brown hair, brown eyes. Nothing to make her stand out in a crowd. She’s dressed conservatively in a green two piece suit. The colour suits her somehow.

“The sundew is so called because people used to think its glistening droplets were dew. They believed that  the plants could  hold onto the dew, even in hot weather – quite a good trick, I’m sure you’ll agree.  It was a simple step from there to thinking the plants  had  magic properties, so much so that in medieval times, herbalists claimed the ‘dew’ could be used to get rid of warts.”

 

I change the slide to a close up. It shows an insect well and truly stuck. Someone gasps, and I see a hand goes up to a mouth. I hadn’t really thought about it, but some of my slides ARE a bit graphic.

I realise that I’ve never given this talk to an audience composed entirely of ladies before. As I continue with my lecture, I try to keep the gruesome details to a minimum but it’s hard. It’s those details that make these plants so fascinating. When I give this talk to children, they lap up the nasty bits. It doesn’t matter whether they’re all girls, all boys, or a mixture. It’s when they grow up things change.

Come to think of it, I’ve never been what you would call relaxed around the fairer sex. Except Mum of course. Somehow that was different.

“The Venus Fly Trap, is named after the Roman goddess of love. It uses perfume to attract its prey. The trap is sprung when tiny hairs inside the trap are stimulated. As can be seen from this slide, the hairs are very small and hard to see.

When a fly steps into one of the traps, nothing happens straight away. The fly can even touch the trigger hairs and get away with it, but if the hairs are touched again, the trap slams shut, ensnaring the insect and sealing its fate. The more it wriggles, the tighter the hold the plant takes.”

I haven’t had much experience with women, which explains why I’m still single at the age of forty six. I’ve spent most of my life looking after Mum. She had a stroke when she was just fifty. Dad had died when I was a toddler. It seemed easier to move back in with her rather than risk her being taken ill while she was alone.

I wouldn’t have missed a minute of the time I spent with her. We were always the best of friends,  I never felt the  need to have anyone else in my life.

Then she died.

It’s been two years, and I still miss her every bit as much. Towards the end, she tried to encourage me to find a girlfriend, but I  didn’t know how. I hoped that a woman would somehow drop into my life, but that’s never happened.

It was Mum who kindled my love for insect eating plants. She gave me my first pitcher plant when I was twelve years old.

In those days, we lived near Kew Gardens. It cost next to nothing to get in, so we went there most weekends. We always headed straight for the insectivorous plants.

 

“Like the Venus Fly Trap, pitcher plants exude a sweet scent to attract their unwary prey. Once enticed into a pitcher, backward pointing hairs block their retreat. Sooner or later the insect falls into the liquid, drowns, and is digested by the plant.”

My audience relaxes when a photo of the greater bladderwort comes up on the screen. Its attractive golden flowers rise up from the still waters of a stream.  It looks lovely, harmless, the sort of plant anyone might like in their garden pond. They don’t know about the traps it keeps under the water line, ready to spring shut on passing water fleas.

My talks normally last about fifty minutes; with questions that can bring it up to an hour or more. That gives me enough time to cover the subject in some depth, but it isn’t too long so that I lose the audience’s interest.

Today is going to have to be different. As far as I can tell, there’s only one member of the audience who’s enjoying my talk. I decide to cut my losses, and bring it to an early close.

I’m rewarded with a faint ripple of polite applause.

“Does anyone have any questions for Mr French?” asks Mrs Willis.

At first I think there aren’t going to be any takers, but then a hand ALMOST lifts itself. It’s the lady in the front row, the one wearing the green suit.

“Do you have a question for me?” I ask her.

“Yes but…”

Her voice trails away so I encourage her gently. “Go on. Ask your question. I won’t bite.”

She takes a deep breath, pauses, then finally manages to find the words. “I have a pitcher plant at home. Is there any way of propagating it?”

I open my mouth to reply, but I can’t help noticing the pained expression on a number of faces. I’m keeping them from their refreshments. “That’s a very good question, Mrs?”

“Miss Harrison, Susan.”

“Before I answer, can I just see if anyone else has any questions?”

No more hands go up. I can’t say I’m surprised.

I turn my focus back to Miss Harrison.  “Come and see me during the tea break. I can answer all your questions then.”

Mrs Willis gives me a relieved smile before thanking  me formally. The chairs move to the back of the hall like magic, then everyone makes a dash for the cakes and biscuits.

Once I’ve packed my things away I look for Miss Harrison. She is sitting quietly in a far corner. I beckon to her, but she doesn’t move. It seems I  will have to go to her.

It takes some coaxing, but at last she overcomes her shyness and a torrent of questions comes rushing out. She has a collection of insectivorous plants, including a Venus Fly Trap. It’s plain to see that she’s pleased to have someone to talk to about her hobby.

Part of me is happy to stay and chat, another wants to go back to the safety of my empty house.

As we talk, I look at this woman more closely.  She’s neither plain nor pretty, neither thin nor fat. Not remarkable at all in fact. Her voice is soft.  I move my chair closer so that I can hear her. As I do so, I notice the fine blond hairs that curl on the nape of her neck. I have to stop myself reaching out to touch them.

Without knowing how it happens, I find myself agreeing to call at her home the following evening to see her collection of plants. She has an Albany pitcher plant which is about to flower. I could do with a photograph of that for my talk, the one I have is rather fuzzy.

As I get ready to go to see Miss Harrison, I feel a bit strange, much the same as when I first  rode a roller coaster. I’m excited, but deep down, more than a little scared.

I put a new film in the camera, and pack my bag, telling myself to stop being so daft. This isn’t a date. All I’m doing is going round to a lady’s house to see her plants. There’s nothing to worry about in that.

It takes me a while to decide what to wear. I don’t want to look overdressed in case but at the same time I don’t want to dress too casually. I try to remember what she was wearing at the meeting. Some kind of suit. Green. Yes, that’s right. A soft green. Like the green of a newly formed Venus Fly trap. I settle for smart grey trousers and a jacket.

I arrive at her house exactly on time. As I walk down her path I get the feeling that  I’m being watched. It’s an eerie, but not unpleasant feeling. She opens the door as soon as I knock,   as though she’s been waiting for me.

As she beckons me inside, she smiles.

The moment I’m inside her house, I become aware of  a subtle scent. It’s Chanel Number 5, the scent my mother always wore.

The front door closes with a snap as Susan  reaches out and takes my coat, then  her hand takes my arm as she leads me deeper into the house.  My fate is sealed.

For a moment, deep down inside, I know how it feels to be a fly when the green fleshy leaves of a Venus Fly Trap close, tightly, round it but I don’t struggle. Instead, I surrender myself, willingly, to my fate.

 

 

 

VALENTINE’S DAY WILL SOON BE OVER by Linda Lewis 1800 words

 

 

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought Maria.

It had always been her dream to run a successful restaurant, and by the looks of things, her dream was coming true, right before her eyes.

The restaurant was fully booked and some customers were already regular visitors. She felt proud and happy that they had chosen The Orchid on this, the most romantic night of the year.

The thought made her smile. She couldn’t have felt less romantic if she’d tried. Her feet were already throbbing,  and she still had another three hours work ahead of her. Still, if business continued to grow, she might soon be able to hire extra staff.

 

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought David.

He glanced across the table at his companion. Gladys  was attractive, good company too but she wasn’t Dora. Normally he found small talk easy, but that night was different.

It was hard concentrating on business when all he wanted to do was call his wife and tell her how much he missed her, and promise that  things would be different next year.

She’d been meant to move weeks ago, but selling the house had proved more difficult than expected. Now, at last they had a completion date. The thought cheered him up and it occurred to him that maybe Gladys missed her family too.

He wasn’t sure if they celebrated Valentine’s Day where she came from, but even if they didn’t, it must be hard to be away from home for weeks on end.

It wasn’t his client’s fault he was unhappy.  The least he could do was make sure she had a good time. He smiled and topped up her glass with wine.

“So tell me about Valentine’s Day in America,” he said.

*          *          *

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought Harry.

He looked across the table at his wife of seventeen years. The subdued light and the flicker of the candles softened her face  and reminded him of the girl he had married.

He wondered what had happened to her. He wondered too why she had insisted on coming here tonight. They were hardly the most romantic couple in the world. He tried to

remember the last time they’d held hands, or shared a kiss, but he couldn’t. It was all too long ago and much too far away.

He looked round the busy restaurant. He’d never been one to bother much with Valentine’s Day – too commercialised for him, but tonight was different somehow. An excitement, an enthusiasm for life seemed to fill the air like smoke.

Yesterday he’d felt sure about what he wanted to do. Now doubts had started to creep into his mind.

It had taken him several weeks to find another place to live. The flat was small, but very comfortable, and just round the corner from his office, but was it what he really wanted?  Did he really want to end the marriage, and live alone in an empty flat?

He pictured himself in two or three years time. Working all the hours God sent, earning money for the sake of earning money. What was the point of that? Somewhere, deep down inside, he knew that he still loved his wife. His feelings had been buried as they tried so desperately to start the family that was never to be. They’d been through so much together. How could he think about throwing it all away?

He reached across the table for his wife’s hand, expecting her to flinch, but she didn’t pull away.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“I know,” she replied.

*          *          *          *          *          *

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought Kathy as she looked at her watch.

It was almost half past. Pat was meant to be there at 8. How could he do this to her again? Stand her up, today of all days. She shrunk into herself as the waitress came over for the second time.

“Would you like to order yet?” she asked giving her a sympathetic smile. Kathy sniffed  back a tear. Was it so very obvious that she’d been stood up?

“I’ll wait a few more minutes, if that’s OK,”  she said at last.

The waitress nodded. “Of course.”

Kathy wondered how she could be so happy, working in a busy restaurant on St Valentine’s Day. Surely every woman wants to be wined and dined, at least ONCE a year, then  she laughed. All the restaurants would be closed if that was the case.

Her laugh attracted the attention of a young couple two tables away. They were so much in love it hurt her to even look at them. She gave them a quick smile, then bowed her head to read the menu, one more time.  Was Pat ever going to turn up? Something told her the answer was no.

*          *          *          *          *

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought Howard.

By then he would know if Suzanne was going to become his wife. He watched  as she put on her  glasses to read the menu. She had a knack of making everything she did look both sweet and sexy at the same time. He swallowed hard; if his heart beat much louder everyone would be able to hear it.

The evening had to be perfect or she might not say  yes.

“Have you decided what you want?” he asked her. “Don’t worry how much it costs. Tonight’s special.”

“I’ll have soup of the day, followed by the lamb in red wine sauce,” she told him.

At her words he did what he thought was impossible, he fell a bit deeper in love

with her. She could have chosen the most expensive things on the menu, and he wouldn’t have minded, but she didn’t. She knew he didn’t have pots of money.

At once the thought alarmed him. Would she want to marry him, knowing that he’d never make a fortune? He  was what his father called a steady chap, happy in his job at the Post Office. It wasn’t in his makeup to become a millionaire.

He didn’t know how much longer he could stand the suspense, but it was so important to choose the right moment. He’d spent ages deciding when would be the best time. If he’d asked her straight away she might have said no, and the meal would have been ruined.

Eventually he’d decided to wait until after the main course. Yes, he’d ask her while they were waiting for their dessert.

He wished he could have ordered champagne, but he couldn’t really afford it and besides, what if she said no.

As Suzanne  sipped her wine, Howard  thought she’d never looked lovelier. The candlelight danced in her eyes, and they shimmered like the ring in his pocket.

“Will you marry  me?”

The words just came out, there was nothing he could do. He didn’t dare breathe as he waited for her answer.

*          *          *          *          *

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought Joseph Banks as he opened the door.

The restaurant was already very  busy.

He sighed. He always dined there on Fridays, it was his once a week treat. It was usually fairly quiet, but this evening was very different, just because it was February 14th. The whole world seemed to have gone Valentine crazy.

The waitress intercepted him as he stepped inside. “Mr Banks, I need to ask a favour,” she said.

“Let  me guess,” he replied, “would I mind sharing a table with some other lonely soul as you’re rather busy tonight.”

She stared at him, and Joseph knew what she was thinking. What had happened to him to make him so very bitter? Well he wasn’t going to tell her, that was for sure, but despite himself, the hurt in her eyes pained him.

“Well yes,” said the waitress, “I was going to ask you that,  but not because we’re full, your table is ready as usual. It’s just that the woman on the table next to yours has  been stood up…”

He interrupted her, “and it breaks your soft heart to see her all alone on February 14th.” He laughed his bitter laugh as he remembered the same thing happening to him.

He’d thought Amy was the one, but she’d had other ideas. He was in a restaurant, waiting for her when she sent a text saying she was moving to London. After that, he’d made a vow never to let any woman get that close to him again.

The waitress said nothing more, just led him to his usual table and handed him a menu.

As he tried to make his choice, his gaze drifted  to the woman on table 3. She kept glancing  at her watch. He knew just how she felt; the cold hard realisation that

somebody you love with all your heart doesn’t feel the same way about you. Suddenly he couldn’t stand to see her suffer any longer.

“Excuse me,” he said leaning towards her. “If you’re dining alone, I wonder, could I join you?”

She lifted her head and smiled. It was a thin, unsteady smile but warm enough.

She took a deep breath before replying. “I’ve been stood up. There. I’ve said it, so if you want to take pity on me, go ahead.”

It was easy to read the look in her eyes. She was trying to be brave, but on the inside he knew she was crying. The thought touched his cold heart.

“It’s no consolation,” he said, “but it happens to everybody at least once in their life. It’s no reflection on you at all.” He gestured towards the empty chair and she nodded, so he picked up his jacket and moved across to join her.

“It happened to me, exactly  five years ago….”

*          *          *          *          *          *

Valentine’s Day will soon be over thought Maria, then she could open a bottle of wine and relax.

It was hard work, but she couldn’t deny how much she loved it. It gave her such a buzz to see people enjoying themselves.

The woman who had been stood up was smiling and chatting away to Mr Banks. He looked so much nicer when he wasn’t frowning. Even the grumpy looking man at table four seemed to have softened. A reconciliation coming there, if she wasn’t very much mistaken.

She slipped out into the kitchen and snuck up behind the chef, wrapping her arms round his waist.

“Steady on,” he said. “You’ll make me curdle the sauce,” he twisted round and gave her a quick kiss.

“A couple have just got engaged,” she told him. “Can I give them some wine?”

“Give them champagne! It’s Valentine’s Day for goodness sake. Now get back to work,” he  said with a  grin, “we’ve got a restaurant to run!”,   and she laughed.

Yes, it was a great life, especially when you were married to the chef.