Chapter one: ‘The best days of your life’ cont.
The café was quiet. The after work crowd had gone and they had their pick of seats. Maggie immediately claimed the lumpy overstuffed green one in the window. She loved people watching and would happily spend hours there, gazing out at the citizens of Colchester. Emma followed her and dumped her swimming bag on the floor next to the sofa. ‘What do you fancy, my treat,’ Maggie said jumping up with her purse already in hand. ‘Surprise me,’ Emma replied, smiling at her friend. While Maggie bustled off towards the counter, Emma slid onto the sofa, tipping her head back against the armrest. She closed her eyes, which still stung slightly from wearing her contacts all day and the chlorinated pool water. She pushed her black-framed glasses up onto her forehead and rubbed her eyes. Her dad liked to tease her about those glasses; he called them her ‘Clark Kents’. He really wasn’t funny.
‘Mild-mannered English teacher by day, superhero author by night,’ Emma mumbled to herself. Her hair was still wet and Emma absently ran her fingers through it, combing the straight blonde tresses out. What she really needed was an amazing hero. Heroines were important to romance novels, they needed to provide a point of view, a way in for the reader, but it’s the hero that really catches your attention. Austen had Mr. Darcy, Bronte had Mr. Rochester and I have….a mysterious crusader who my (currently nameless) heroine loathes. Emma groaned and massaged her forehead with one hand. Maybe she could profile a hero? Maggie certainly seemed to have plenty of ideas about what constituted the ideal man.
Around her she could hear snatches of conversation, the gentle sound of jazz coming from the café’s cd player. The sofa was slightly prickly against her neck and she shifted her weight around, trying to stop it chafing her skin. Briefly, faintly, she caught the sound of a violin. Emma kept her eyes closed and tried to follow the sound. Only a few notes. Such a sad refrain…
‘There you go!’ said Maggie crashing a laden tray down onto the small table. Distracted from her thoughts, Emma opened her eyes and sat up. Her glasses fell down onto her nose. Maggie chattered as she picked up the coffee mugs and moved them around. ‘This is yours, I got you a macchiato, I hope that’s Ok? The waitress suggested you try it with coconut syrup, but I know that you don’t like things with loads of sugar, so I asked for a sugar-free and she had one, which hopefully you’ll like….’ Maggie broke off and put down two enormous slabs of carrot cake. ‘You alright?’ she asked, peering at Emma closely.
Emma nodded and shook her head to clear it. ‘Must just be a bit tired,’ she said and scooped up the massive orange coffee mug. Raising it to her lips she breathed in the fragrant steam, ‘Mmmmm….coconut,’ she said letting the steam fog her glasses. Maggie shot her a penetrating glance, then shrugged and picked up her cake and a small fork. With a careful slicing motion, she speared a large piece smothered with butter icing, ‘Eat tu, cakey,’ she said and popped it into her mouth.
‘Mags, who is your ideal man?’ Emma asked, putting down the heavy cup. ‘I need some expert advice fleshing out my hero.’
Maggie chewed thoughtfully and swallowed. ‘I’m not sure if I should be flattered or worried about my reputation,’ she said, wiping her mouth on a paper napkin.
‘You know what I mean,’ replied Emma getting out a notepad and pen. Flicking to the book-marked page with one hand, she deftly uncapped the biro with the other and held it poised over the paper. ‘So…?’
Maggie shifted on the sofa, putting down her cake plate. ‘Are we talking ideal romantic hero here, or realistic man?’ she asked.
Emma deliberated for a moment, ‘Definitely needs to be realistic, but also ideal. In fact, give me both!’
‘Ok,’ Maggie said thoughtfully, ‘well, the romantic hero needs to be tall, dark and handsome. It definitely helps if he’s muscular, but nothing on the weight lifting scale. He needs some wildness in his nature and a hint of rebellion.’
Emma nodded, noting points down, ‘…rebellion. OK. And the realistic man?’
‘Mmm…well all the above still stand, but I like a man who is passionate, caring and sensitive. Oh and he needs to have a good sense of humour.’
Emma continued to note down Maggie’s preferences. It was no wonder she was so good at the dating websites, she thought to herself, she already had the criteria all sorted and ready to type.
Maggie broke through Emma’s musings. ‘What about you though? What’s your ideal?’
‘Right now I really couldn’t tell you,’ replied Emma ruefully. ‘My mother certainly has a list of criteria that she matches potential son-in-laws against. At least, she did with Tom.’
Emma met Tom at university. Fresher’s week was a hazy blur of gin and new people. One night at the Student Union she had stumbled out of the bar slightly the worse for wear and fallen over a dark-haired guy asleep in a flowerbed. They were inseparable from that night onwards. According to Emma’s mum, Tom was the perfect boyfriend. He (secretly) loved Eurovision, was a whizz in the kitchen and played rugby in his spare time. He was everything that Emma was supposed to want. In their third year they moved into a flat near the university campus together and bought some goldfish. Emma’s sisters started predicting wedding bells.
But somehow after graduation things fell apart. Emma stayed in Exeter for her teacher-training course; Tom went to London and found a job in recruitment. They spoke on the phone every day and at the weekends they took it in turns to visit each other. Every time she saw him, Emma felt happier to leave and sadder to arrive. Then the inevitable row over where to spend Christmas spilled into a full-blown meltdown. Tom left for his parent’s and Emma turned off her phone for a week.
That was several years ago. Tom and Emma had managed to get back on friendly terms and even spent an evening together on an awkward pseudo-date when Emma’s mum persuaded her to ‘give Tom another chance’. Not to mention last year’s New Year’s Party that ended in sexting. Emma shuddered slightly at the memory. There are some things that should never happen after tequila and drunken flirting with ex-boyfriends is right at the top of that list!
‘You’re thinking about Tom again, aren’t you?’ Maggie said accusingly. Emma blinked and looked at her friend. ‘I’m sorry, I got a bit distracted….how did you know?’ Maggie snorted and put her empty coffee cup down on the over-sized saucer. ‘You get this sort of wistful puppy-dog look,’ she replied raising an eyebrow, ‘And I can clearly see the ‘did I make the right choice’ banner going through your head.’ Emma groaned, ‘Oh God, it’s my mother’s voice, I’ve internalised her!’ Maggie laughed and started packing away her things. ‘Yes, but remember, you’ve got me to snap you back to your senses. Tom was great, but the point is that he was great. I would like to see you get back on the romantic pony, but not just plodding over the same old ground.’
Maggie stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. She looked down at Emma, ‘Remember, no texting the ex! I’ll see you tomorrow night.’ Emma stood up and hugged her friend goodbye. Maggie darted out of the coffee shop pulling up her collar against the chill of the evening. She grinned at Emma through the window and set off home down the hill. Emma sat down again and looked at the notes on her pad. She scratched her nose with the end of the pen. A teenage waitress came over and cleared the table. Emma absently thanked her. She pushed her glasses up her nose and rubbed her chin before beginning to scribble notes:
Hero – what do I find attractive?
Emma paused staring at the sentence that she had written. What do I find attractive? she pondered. Tom was funny and clever, but he just wasn’t quite right. ‘At least not right for me,’ she muttered out loud and put down the notepad. What she hadn’t told Maggie, or her mum was the contents of the message that Tom sent to her last month.
‘Em I’m getting married. I miss you. x’
This is the third part of Chapter 1 from ‘Writing my to romance’. If you are interested in reading the opening and previous sections of the story, please see ‘Writing my way to romance’ parts 1 and 2.
Image from Pixabay.