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Primrose Hill is Suddenly Single

Ándrèa Hicks

Nightingale Lane Books

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This book is a work of fiction.

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Ándrèa Hicks

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Yes, it’s true…

A rose by any other name…

Jog on…

Work hard to spend harder…

Doing the right thing…

Sometimes you just have to vent…

Love, look at the two of us…

Madam Fate pokes her pretty nose in again…

You should always have a Plan B…

If music be the food of love, I’d rather have chocolate…

Yes…it’s true…

I know, I know. Got to get over it, right? There’s nothing wrong with being an independent woman of the world. We girls don’t have to rely on guys for our happiness. Happiness comes from inside us. That’s what the sisterhood says on Facebook, anyway. And they’re never wrong. And I’ve made a point of remembering it, even though Marcus dumped me by text just before he was due to pick me up for “a special date”. A special date where he’d probably decided to give me the elbow, face to face, but then, with some help from his mates, no doubt, was encouraged to find an easier way to do it. So. Not. Good. The rat. And…I’d done the pink fluffy handcuffs thing he insisted on. Personally, I found it mortifying. Not my idea of a romantic night in, particularly when he left me handcuffed to the bed while he went to get some wine, then met an old friend and went to the pub for a drink, forgetting all about me. I was so cold, and I needed to pee. Badly. Any longer and we’d have both been embarrassed. Me more than him, of course. He thought it was hilarious. Needless to say, the pink fluffy handcuffs were binned.

‘You’re so ditzy,’ he’d said, like it was meant to be a compliment. ‘It’s why I’m so attracted to you.’

‘Oh, really,’ I wanted to say. ‘Not because you think we could be a real item, or in a long-term relationship because you’re falling in love with me, but because I’m ditzy, and because I allow you to keep me prisoner; banged up like a criminal in the Middle Ages while you go to the pub, where it’s warm, and where there’s a loo within walking distance. Charming. And actually, I’m in no way ‘ditzy’. I’ve got a degree. In history. I think that makes me the least ditzy-est person you know.’

The moron…

A rose by any other name…

The clock in the corner of my laptop says it’s one a.m. I shut it down, sighing. I’m on a mission. At least, I’d been on a mission. I think “the mission” had ended in a big fat failure. Being single is okay, but, I can’t get away from the fact that we live in a world of doubles. Think about it. Ant and Dec, Wills and Kate, fish and chips. Even Sooty had Sweep, and they were together for years. And wherever I look, people are in twos, at the pub, in restaurants, even at work. I knew of at least two couples who had hooked up over the photocopier. There’s the ‘two’ word again. It’s been three months since I’ve had even a whiff of a date. Cara, my closest friend said that I’m only twenty-six and I should stop angsting about it, and that if I want to meet someone new I’ll probably have to change my life. Completely. Which is easy to say when you’re just about to marry your childhood sweetheart who looks like Ryan Gosling, and probably earns nearly as much.

I look around my flat. From my bed I can see pretty much all of it. It’s what’s described as open plan, and as the estate agent politely described it when I saw it for the first time, compact. It seems that open plan in the case of my flat, means no plan whatsoever. My whole apartment has only four rooms, but I make the most of them, even though I say it myself. The living room has my own special decorative touch, and is just big enough for a two-seater sofa, a chair, a coffee table, and a couple of occasional tables. It’s all second-hand stuff from a junk shop on the Portobello Road, but I painted the tables in cream chalk paint so they all match, and found some lovely fake fur throws which cover the sofa and chair. The kitchen I painted pale blue, and the cupboards white, which makes it look clean and fresh. I’ve barely used the oven, but the microwave gets a lot of action. From the kitchen you go into the living room and from the living room to the bedroom. Leading from my bedroom is a small bathroom. It isn’t much but it’s completely me. It cost a small fortune. This is London after all, but I love it, and probably would have paid a bit more. It just felt so right, and I have a wonderful view across to the St. Katherine Dock if I stand on the balcony and crane my neck to the right, lifting my left leg as high as I can, and hold onto the trellis that runs down the wall by the French doors. You see. Perfect.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently, sitting up in bed surfing the newest dating sites. I know Marcus didn’t work out, but I can’t let it put me off forever. Obviously, we weren’t compatible. Just one of those things, I suppose. There was a time when I thought he might be the one, but fate had other plans. At least I could help my romantic destiny along by unleashing the power of technology.

I listed on the sites as “looking for a serious relationship”, and uploaded my favorite picture of me, wearing my new Stella dress mum and dad bought me for my birthday. They knew I was down in the dumps and I think they were trying to cheer me up, bless them. But a Stella dress is a dress to impress. The problem, of course, is that I no longer have anyone to impress. The photo is an image of me laughing my head off with my friends, large drink in hand. Okay, inside I was hurting, but that’s the thing about us girls, we know how to put on a brave face, partly because we don’t want to be “that girl who’s always being dumped” and bore the pants of everyone else, but mostly because too much sympathy hurts even more. All I need to do is post a headline to pique the interest of the right person; the one who’s looking for his soul mate, although I don’t want to be too obvious, obviously. I spend a long time thinking about it, and I come up with ‘This Primrose Needs a Flowerbed’. Perfecto. I glance at the clock again. Two-thirty. OMG. Day-dreaming is the thief of time. I need to sleep.

Jog on…

I can hear banging. My eyes flick open. Did I hear banging? No…no, don’t be silly, Primrose. It’s your imagination. Or maybe I dreamt it. I wait…and listen. Oh, God, there it is again, loud enough to wake the dead. I glance at my phone, the glowing numbers piercing the darkness. 4:59 a.m. Who in their right mind would bang on my door at four-fifty-nine am, unless they were up to something? I swallow hard and sit up. It must be a serial killer. It’s always a serial killer!

Patting around on my bed I find my laptop, still slightly warm, and tucked under a pillow. Not what I’m looking for. I reach further over to the other side of the bed until my hand brushes against the cricket bat I’ve kept beside the bed ever since I got my own flat. I listen for a bit longer hoping whoever it is will go away, but there it is again. The noise sounds thunderous in the silence of my bedroom. It’s unnerving.

I throw off the bedcovers and grab my phone from the night table, using it to light my way to the light switch. I flick the light on and tiptoe into the kitchen, then through to the living room which takes one whole step. I turn on the light, trying so hard for it not to make a noise, but of course it does, with a loud, ‘CLICK’. I pause for a moment, listening, then start to key 999 into my phone.

With my phone in my left hand and my bat in my right, I press my face gingerly against the door and look through the peephole. Another bang crashes against the door and I jump back scared to my core. My breath comes in short bursts and I decide I’m not going to be a victim in my own flat. Time to take control of the situation. I take a deep breath and find my strongest voice.

‘I have a weapon, and a very big, angry dog in here, so I advise you to do one.’ I back away from the door and hold my bat in front of me like a light sabre, ready to swing it at the intruders.

‘You haven’t got a dog, and you’d better put that bat away before you break something.’ My mouth drops open and relief floods through me. I throw back the three bolts and unlock the Yale and open the door into a brightly lit pastel green hallway, throwing myself into my neighbour, Michael’s arms.

‘It’s you. Thank God, it’s you. I thought you were an axe murderer…or something.’

He kind of shrinks in my arms, a big deal for such a huge guy. Pressing his arms tightly against his sides and looking completely embarrassed, he clears his throat. ‘Er, yeah, nice to see you too, Primrose.’

Michael is not alone. My friend, Lexie is with him, and after I disentangle myself from Michael’s arms, I pull a face at them.

‘Y’know, I really love you two, but honestly, this is waaay too early for a visit.’ I frown at Michael who looks pretty much like me; just woken up puffy face, eyes that desperately want to close, and the most serious case of bed-head I’ve seen in a very long time. He’s wearing a crumpled pink tee shirt and pyjama bottoms with a SpongeBob SquarePants pattern on them. He wears no shoes, only socks that are meant to be white, but so aren’t. One has a huge hole, revealing a rather large and ragged looking big toe, complete with black wiry hairs. It’s too early for this kind of thing. I want to gag.

‘You said you wanted to go running today, remember?’ Lexie said. I glance at her. She’s head to foot in black and pink Lycra that grips her body like a second skin, running gear that shows the world she means business and won’t be messed with. Her form fitting top, bum-sculpting leggings, and expensive running shoes are to die for. She’s scooped her curly dark brown hair into a cute messy bun that wouldn’t work for anyone else, but this is Lexie we’re talking about. Everything works for her.

I shrug, beckoning them into my living room and shutting the front door in case we wake the neighbours. Michael sinks gladly into my squashy sofa and leans his head back with a sigh. I close my eyes, thinking, in your dreams.

‘Well, I remember the conversation. I think what I said was, I can’t run during the week because I must be at work by eight, then I said jokingly,’ I look hard at Lexie, ‘That’s jokingly, which means it was “A Joke”, unless you want to go at five in the morning. And I would just like to emphasise, it was “A Joke”. Who in their right mind does anything energetic at five o’clock in the morning?’ Michael lifted his head looking suddenly interested. I put my hand up to stop him from regaling us chapter and verse on his sex life. ‘Yeah, okay, Michael, we don’t want to know what you get up to at five in the morning, thanks.’

I turn away and fill the kettle, banging it down on the hob to show that I’m less than happy. How does she even have the energy this early in the morning, I think to myself? I turn and look at Michael who is gently snoring, his mouth wide open. Not the best look I’ve ever seen. I make a mug of coffee while Lexie jumps up and down on the spot and does arm and leg stretches. How can I get her to go away so I can go back to bed? And why is Michael here?

I sit in the chair and sip my coffee, relishing the warmth as I hug the mug with my hands. I’m suddenly conscious of Lexie rummaging around in my tiny kitchen.

‘Look,’ she said, stepping back into the living room ‘I have been trying to get you to come running with me for months now and you have only come with me twice. Most of the time you find some way to weasel your way out of it. Well, this time you aren’t getting away with ignoring me. I even had Michael let me in the building.’ She put a glass of orange squash on the table next to me. I stared at it. I don’t buy fresh orange. Too many calories. ‘Where are your trainers?’ she asks in a voice that sounds like she won’t be argued with. I like Lexie, but she’s really bossy.

I lean towards the table and pick up the glass. As I sip the juice, I point to the oven. Lexie pulls open the oven door revealing several shoe boxes lined up on the pristine racks. Lexie looks in each one, finds the one she wants and throws my trainers at me. Then she goes to the drawer under my wardrobe and pulls out the spattered white leggings I wore when I painted my flat, and a top I was about to take to the charity shop. ‘You can wear these,’ she says. I sigh, knowing I should say something about her going through my things, but to be honest I’m pretty used to both Lexie and my other friend, Hannah sticking their noses into my life. Living with them was a steep learning curve into how to accept with grace not having your own space, and therefore your own privacy. At times it was teeth-grinding, but I reminded myself they had to put up with me as much as I had to put up with them. I met Lexie when she’d put an ad in the local rag, looking for a flat mate. Her flat was in a nice area, and the room she was renting out was large and airy. It suited me very well and I snapped it up before anyone else went to look at it. Hannah, I met during my time at University.

I go off to the bathroom in a sulk to change and Michael heads back to his flat which is the floor under mine.

‘Lexie is so pushy,’ I moan under my breath as I brush my teeth. My inner voice kicks in. ‘Stop complaining. It could be fun, and you need to work on your saddlebag thighs’. I frown at the reflection of the girl in the mirror. She has a pale, early morning face, and, “needs a wash” blonde hair scraped back into a style so tight it’s almost face-lifting. There’s a side of me that wishes I could be more like Lexie. She’s driven and in control. Guys fall all over themselves to get her attention, but she hardly notices them. And she looked fabulous in her running gear. I look down. My leggings are covered in paint, and my top is a floral, baggy thing my aunt bought me years ago that I didn’t have the heart to throw out. I look terrible. The inner voice kicks in again, even though I didn’t ask for its opinion.

‘You could be more like her if you tried harder. You have to put in the effort. The trouble with you is, you’re lazy’.

‘I can’t run my way to a smaller nose or a bigger chest, smart arse,’ I answer. I turn my head and study my nose in the mirror. Sighing, I close my eyes, feeling even more depressed. It doesn’t matter how many times I look at it, or from which angle, front, side, up, down, it still looks horrible.

‘Isn’t that what the jar’s for?’ asks the know-all voice. Underneath my dressing table is a tall glass jar, half filled with coins and a few notes. It was a large decorative sweetshop jar I picked up for pennies a few years ago in a little antique store in Battersea. It was so cute I just couldn’t resist, and I imagined filling it with all sorts of treats. Now it’s my savings jar. I even have a specific thing in mind. I’ve always wanted to improve the way I look. I thought it would give me more confidence. I know it’s superficial but, well, we all have things we would like to change about ourselves. It wouldn’t take much, maybe a few more curves, and a lot less nose. I could also do something with my hair, perhaps make it look more like Lexie’s. Her hair always has so much body and shine. It bounces around her face when she runs or laughs. Mine clings to my forehead or slaps me lankly in the face. And she’s a brunette. I’m blonde, well, more…dirty fair than blonde, but I have highlights. I thought about extensions. They look so sexy, and I love Brigitte Bardot. She’s my girl crush. Yeah, that would be good. Gorgeous bod, beautiful long blonde hair, and a cute nose.

Lexie bangs on the door. ‘What the hell are you doing in there?’

‘Yeah, okay, I’m ready.’ As I’ll ever be, I say under my breath.

We step out into the hall and I look at my phone. It’s still only five thirty. What am I doing, going running, which I hate as much as I hate any physical activity, apart from you-know-what, at stupid-o’clock in the morning? As we walk down the hall, correction, as I walk down the hall, and Lexie bounces, my neighbour, Lily Twining opens her front door. I’m fairly sure she’s lived in her flat since it was built, just after the war in the 1940s. It was hard to tell how old she is, but she’s a sweet old lady and we’ve got to know each other quite well since I moved in. This morning her white hair is pinned up in a bun and her tiny wrinkled face seems flushed. She always wears a dressing gown; each day she wears a different colour unless it’s hot summer, when she wears a flannelette petticoat and a necklace of bright green plastic beads. I’m not sure if she owns anything else. Sometimes she sits in the hall in a plastic garden chair fiddling with her mobile phone. She studies it very intently, trying to work out how to make the same call she makes every day. Each day as I head out for work, she’s either sitting in her garden chair or waiting by the door, waiting to ask me if I can help her call her grandson. He bought her the mobile phone and programmed his number into it so that she could get hold of him if ever she needed someone. His is the only number in her contacts list. I thought it was a kind gesture for him to think of his grandmother. I had yet to meet him and only seen him once or twice from my window when he walked her to his car for an outing. He’s the only one who visits her or takes her anywhere.

‘Primrose?’ Lily stops me as always. ‘What a pretty name. Have I told you that?’ She holds her phone tightly to her, her thick reading glasses on her nose.

‘Not today,’ I say, smiling gently.

‘Can you help me call my grandson?’

‘It’s very early, Lily. Do you think he’ll be up yet?’

‘Oh, yes. He’s an early riser like me. He said I can call whenever I like. I just wanted to ask him about my cat.’

‘Your cat?’ I frown, trying to remember whether I’d ever seen a cat in her flat. Lexie’s waiting for me at the end of the hall, and I can hear her sighing with impatience.

‘Yes, Dottie, my cat. I can’t find her. I’ve looked everywhere and I’m very worried about her.’

I nod. ‘Okay, Lily.’ I take the phone from her and find the number. ‘You just press the green call button when you want to speak to him,’ I say, giving her the phone and pointing out the button.

‘Oh, Primrose,’ she says taking my hand into her small frail one. ‘I saw that young man leaving your flat this morning. You know, the big scruffy one. Are you and he together?’ Lexie bursts out laughing from the other end of the hall as I feel myself going red. I didn’t want to have to explain to Lily how much Michael’s boyfriend, David, would just love that.

‘No, Lily, we’re just friends.’ I smile to myself. Michael isn’t an ugly man. He’s just bit rough around the edges. He looks more like a drummer in a rock band than a primary teacher.

‘Well he’s sweet. If you don’t want him, I’ll take him,’ she says with a wink. I hear Lexie snorting with laughter. That’s the one thing about Lexie I wouldn’t want. She sounds like a braying donkey when she laughs, and it’s hard for me to keep a straight face. How do you explain a gay man to a lovely old lady who can’t remember how to find the only number she has on her mobile?

‘I’ll let him know, Lily,’ I say, as I run to catch Lexie.

Lexie shakes her head. ‘Wow, she’s got some chutzpah. If things don’t work for Michael with David I think we found him an alternative.’

‘You can laugh all you want, but that’s going to be you one day.’

She laughs again as we go down the stairs and out the front door of my building. ‘I hope so,’ she says with a toss of her head. ‘She has good taste. Michael’s a good-looking guy. A little shabby chic, but I don’t mind that.’

‘D’you want to be flirting with guys when you are a grandma?’

‘Why not? Never stop doing what you love,’ Lexie shouts over her shoulder as she takes off in a full sprint. She zooms down the footpath, leaving me for dead. The sky has started to lighten with a faint hint of pink. The air is cool and crisp, and it helps wake me up. I start running. I take small steps, and I’m wondering whether they can actually be called running. My thin pony tail swings from side to side as the pleasantly cool air begins to feel sharp and uncomfortable in my lungs. I cough. I’m so unfit. I just didn’t realise how much.

I spot Lexie in the distance, her pink and black legs moving up and down like pistons.

‘Wait!’ I shout, my breath coming in short bursts. ‘Lexie. Wait.’ I knew agreeing to go on a run with her was a mistake, and I knew without any shadow of a doubt before I left the flat, I would hate it. Lexie is now running way ahead of me, and she is getting further and further away.

I think about high school and PE, when our class went cross-country running. I loathed it, dreaded it, and did everything I could to get out of it. I and a couple of my friends would hide behind the same group of trees every time and light a cigarette which we shared, taking equal drags. Now I wish I hadn’t been so stupid. I do need to go running more, or at least do more exercise. I can’t even keep up with Lexie from the start. Is she that good or am I that bad? She’ll probably still be pulling men when she’s ninety. Right now, I feel as if I need an oxygen tank. I’m not sure I can go much further. I wonder if I should hide somewhere and join in behind Lexie as she comes around again, like we did in high school.

‘No, Primrose’, the voice says. ‘Don’t make the same mistake you made as a stupid teenager. You can do this, just kick it into high gear and shoot past Lexie. Give her the surprise of her life’. I grit my teeth and focus. My arms and legs feel like lead, my lungs are almost bursting.

Lexie has disappeared out of sight. Even she has to take a break some time, doesn’t she? I picture my newly sculpted body that I’ll have through constant running and exercising. Keep visualizing, I tell myself. See yourself the way you want to be. Picture the admiring glances of all the guys in the pub. Suddenly, the sound of my feet on the pavement sounds in my ears like drumbeats. My legs start to shake with each stride. I see a bus stop bench in the distance. That’s my target. If I see a bus stop bench in the distance. If I can make it there I can take a break. I stumble, my arms swing round like helicopter blades. Drivers toot their horns at me, and one guy leans out of his window and shouts, ‘Careful, love. You’ll take off.’ I put my head down, trying to avoid the stares of people walking by. There are people making their way to work now. I’m no longer invisible. I bend forward from the waist feeling nauseas. I’m almost to the bench; I feel like I could almost touch it, but if I take one more step my knees will explode. I sit, no fall, down on a patch of grass next to the bench.

‘Oh, yuck,’ I yelp as the dew on the grass soaks into the back of my leggings. Not only that, but there’s a big, revolting dollop of dog poo right by my left leg. Could things get any worse. ‘You didn’t make it to the bench’, sneers the voice in my mind. ‘Oh, just fuck off, will you,’ I answer.

I start to feel better, and the sick feeling begins to subside. I get up and walk unsteadily to the bench, waiting for Lexie to make her way back around the circuit.

As I wait for her, I see a mature couple walking their dog down the street. They’re holding hands and look like there’s no one else in the world but the two of them. I sigh. That’s all I want; to find that guy who’s just right for me. He would think I was the most beautiful girl who ever lived, he would bring me flowers, be strong, handsome, athletic, and taller than me. He would have dark hair and blue eyes and would make me laugh and feel safe. He would stand up for me when I’m feeling down. I watch the couple as they go by, then their dog fouls the grass where I’d just been sitting. Nice. My sweet dreams evaporate in a puff of smoke.

‘What are you doing?’

I raise my head and meet Lexie’s eyes. Her face and arms are covered in a fine sheen of sweat. I glance around, feeling stunned. The sun is fully up now.

‘I must have dozed off.’ My neck creeks as I roll my head around. It hurts.

‘Really?’ Lexie has a hand perched on her hip and she has one eyebrow raised. She looks less than impressed.

‘Only robots like you do things so early. We normal people like to sleep during usual sleep hours and wake at a reasonable time in the morning. I could have been mugged sitting here.’

‘I doubt they’d want to get anywhere near you with all that drool round your mouth?’

I quickly wipe my face with the back of my hand. Lexie laughs, and I can’t help but crack a smile. I drag myself off the bench and get my wobbly excuse for legs working again. Thankfully, we head back to my flat.

As we walk up to my floor, I see Lily standing at the top of the stairs. When she spots us she waves, then beckons us towards her. Before we reach my floor, a well-dressed man joins her on the landing.

‘Primrose, this is my grandson, James.’ As I reach the landing, Lily grabs me by the wrist and offers my hand to her grandson. He takes it in his own large hand and shakes it warmly. A smile spreads across his gentle features, bright eyes observing me with interest. His skin is smooth, except for a scar over his right eye that slightly distorts his eyebrow. He’s attractive in a boyish way, and the scar doesn’t spoil his looks, in fact the opposite.

‘Nice to meet you, Primrose,’ he says in a light-hearted voice. He puts his hand out to Lexie, who shakes it quickly, then pulls away. He stares pointedly at her, not hiding the fact he thinks she’s hot. ‘Are you the one that has been helping my grandmother?’ Lexie shakes her head and animatedly points both her forefingers at me. ‘She’s the Good Samaritan,’ she says.

I smile, a little embarrassed. ‘I just do what any neighbour would do,’ I say, trying to sound modest.

Lily interrupts. ‘Oh, no, Primrose, is always so helpful, James. She helped me call you this morning.’

‘Oh really. So, it’s you I have to thank for the five-thirty wake up call,’ he says, a wide grin on his face.

‘Yeah, sorry about that. Lily wanted to call you about her cat? She said she couldn’t find it.’

‘Don’t blame it all on me.’ Lily jumps into the friendly banter. ‘Dottie’s always going off and hiding.’ She looks up at James. ‘You know how much I worry about her.’

I look at James with a frown, and he almost imperceptibly shakes his head. ‘So, you’re the one who had a handsome man leaving her flat in the early hours.’

I can feel my cheeks turning red. ‘Did you hear about that?’

‘I always hear about it. In fact, I know virtually every move you make, thanks to Gran.’ He grins at my embarrassment. ‘Sorry, but…you did call me at silly o’clock. I think you owe me.’

James coats his words with charm and my mind lights up. Is he flirting with me?

‘Yeah, well, I can’t say no to Lily. Sorry about that.’ In my nervousness I start to gabble. I don’t want him to think I have men in and out of my flat every hour of the day. ‘Michael’s my gay neighbour. We’re not…together…or anything. He was my early morning call.’ James chuckles, and Lily says, ‘What’s she talking about, James?’ Lexie just grins at me from the side-lines.

‘Primrose is single,’ Lily says, breaking the silence. ‘She used to have a boyfriend, but I didn’t like the look of him.’ She screws her face up with distaste, and I want the ground to open and swallow me. ‘Too arrogant for his own good. I could tell he wasn’t a nice man by the smell of his aftershave. I would have given him the boot ages ago, but Primrose held on to him until she realised she didn’t need him.’

‘Gran!’ James cries. I cup my head in my hands doing my best to avoid his gaze, then decide to laugh it off is the best way out of a difficult moment.

‘She’s right.’ Lexie adds, with almost too much enjoyment. ‘You are single.’ I elbow Lexie, making a mental note to pay her back when I get the chance.

‘It’s good to put a face to the girl my gran is always telling me about,’ says James.

I blow out a breath, relieved the subject’s changed. ‘All good things I hope.’ I was stunned that Lily would tell anyone about me, and even more surprised she obviously took notes about my love interests. ‘Anyway, it’s nothing much. As I said, it’s only what any neighbour would do.’

‘Well I appreciate your looking out for her.’

Suddenly my inner voice makes an appearance. ‘You should ask him out’, it says. ‘Go on. I dare you’.

The very thought of asking James out in front of Lily and Lexie makes my heart pump even harder. That’s his job, I think. And anyway, I’m not sure he fancies me. If he’s interested, he’ll ask me.

‘He’s been flirting with you the whole time. What have you got to lose?’

How about my dignity.

I’m suddenly aware that James is talking about his veterinary practice. He’s telling us about how he saved the life of a pot-bellied pig, and I grab my way out of an awkward situation before I make it even more excruciating by asking him out on a date.

‘I have to get ready for work, but it was lovely to meet you at last.’ I say, feeling a rush of relief as I make my get-away.

‘Chicken’, the voice says. ‘Sorry about the early, early call,’ I add smiling, as I shake his hand one more time.

Is it too much to expect a guy to ask a girl?

‘It’s okay,’ James replied, a cheeky twinkle in his eye. ‘I wouldn’t mind if you called more often.’

I panic. I have no idea what to say. He is clearly flirting with me and I’m plainly out of my comfort zone.

‘Oh, er, thanks. Maybe I will,’ I say trying to sound flirty but failing dismally. I move around him to get to my front door, still shaking his hand, until I think to let go. ‘I’ll see you later, Lily.’ I smile at the old lady and glance at Lexie who is clearly enjoying the show. I make my best attempt at walking away with a sexy sway. I start with a flip, snapping my head round and turning on the heel of my trainer. My stringy ponytail flies around my head and I get whacked in the eye with a greasy mop. It was a far cry from the sensual motion scenes from a film. I walk to my door hoping he didn’t see the last part, and the fact that my eye is watering profusely. I peek over my shoulder as I shove my key into the lock. He’s still watching me. I blush and turn away coyly. The door pops open and Lexie and I go inside. I close the door behind me and lean against it. Lexie instantly starts on me.

‘What the fuck was that about? I’ve never seen anything like it. Was that your version of erotic, ‘cos it was bloody embarrassing? I’m not saying he doesn’t like you. He clearly does, although God knows why. You look bloody awful.’

‘Shut up, Lexie,’ I say crossly as I fight to take my damn trainers off. ‘It’s your fault, anyway. If you hadn’t forced me to go running, which I’m clearly not cut out for, I might have met him under different circumstances, y’know, when I look vaguely human.’ I glance up at her. ‘He was watching me as I walked away.’

‘Yeah, he was. Probably couldn’t believe his eyes,’ Lexie said. ‘And mostly because you’ve got a big wet patch on the bum of your leggings.’

‘What?’ I twist around to look at the seat of my leggings. There it was, a wet, green and brown oval on my bottom. ‘I knew running would ruin my life. How embarrassing. He probably thinks I wet myself.’

Lexie nods. ‘Yep. Can I use your shower? I’ll only be a few minutes.’

‘Please don’t take all day. I need to be on time this morning.’

I go into my bedroom and pull out one of my new work outfits from my tiny closet; navy blue pencil skirt, and a top of the line blouse from Burberry. I found it in a sale last week and had been looking forward to wearing it. As I continue to search my wardrobe, I can’t help but curse my luck. What if he was the guy I was meant to marry, and just because I sat on some damp grass which makes it look like I wet myself, he thinks I’m a complete idiot. I crossly shove the wall of hanging clothes to one side of my closet and look for something else to wear. I love the skirt and blouse and don’t want to wear them on such a bad day because I won’t want to wear them ever again. They’ll have connotations.

I start to argue with myself.

‘Do you fancy James?’ Yes. He’s good-looking and seems to have a kind personality. And he’s a vet, which means he has a brain.

‘If he really liked you, a damp patch on your leggings wouldn’t put him off.’ Well, it’s fate. Fate gives up on me.


I don’t know. Ask her!

My arguing with myself is interrupted by a knock on the front door. I’m guessing it’s probably Michael coming to see if I am still alive after my run with Lexie. It’s not Michael. It’s James.


‘Sorry to intrude. I know you have to go to work, so I’ll be brief.’ He fumbles with his keys and looks quite nervous. ‘I wanted to know if maybe instead of you calling me on my grandmother’s phone,’ he pauses and takes a breath, ‘I could call you on yours and we could have dinner sometime?’ He looks at me with what I can only describe as a hopeful expression. I’m stunned. Just when you think fate is against you, you get a knock at the door. Almost too shocked to speak, I reach over to the table near the front door. It’s where I keep my bag, and also where I laid the cricket bat earlier this morning. I pick up the bat to move it out of the way. James jumps back into the hall outside and crosses his arms in front of him like a shield.

‘Whoa! Whoa! I can take a no.’ I realize I’m holding the cricket bat like a club, and probably looked like I was about to attack him.

‘Oh, no, no,’ I cry, horrified. ‘I’m just getting my mobile to give you my number.’ I throw the cricket bat onto the sofa and search in my bag for my phone. I hold it up to show him.

‘Phew.’ He dramatically pretends to wipe sweat from his brow. ‘You gave me a fright there.’

I laugh. ‘Sorry. I don’t usually greet my visitors with a cricket bat.’ I think about earlier that morning and smile to myself. In fact, I seem to be making a habit of it.

He smiles an easy smile and nods. ‘That’s good to hear.’ We swap numbers and say our goodbyes. As I shut the door I do countless fist pumps.

‘Yes, yes, yes.’

Lexie walks in to the living room after her shower, hair wrapped up in a towel. She’s wearing my jeans and tee shirt.

‘What’s going on?’

I look at her with a big grin, clutching my phone to my chest. ‘Fate doesn’t hate me, Lexie. She wanted me to run. Fate knows best.’ I answer. ‘And I trust her completely.’

Work hard to spend harder…

Walking into the offices of Makepiece & Shine Advertising, my heart thuds to the soles of my feet. My colleagues are glum, and I discover our new boss is coming in today. It’s all anyone wants to talk about. My old boss, Mr. Makepiece sold the company to someone who apparently said he would make it grow and become internationally renowned. Mr. Makepiece dissolved the partnership with Mr. Shine years before but had kept the name for old time’s sake. When my colleagues and I heard about the sale, we were optimistic that the new owner would pick up the reins and run with them, but once the deal was done a very different story had spread around our small office. The new boss was looking for ways to cut costs, and people are very costly. At the time I’d preferred to believe the previous story, I just didn’t want to believe that the man I respected and had worked with for five years was about to sell me and my colleagues down the river. Gradually, as the rumours escalated, I realized my job could be on the line.

When I’d started my career in advertising, I’d imagined that I would be designing international ads for big brands. This was how it was sold to me, and I’d turned down an offer from another agency to take the job with Makepiece and Shine. The reality was I spent most of my time designing billboards for antique shops and local pubs. In the five years I’ve worked here, I’ve had one major brief, and that was overseen by a more senior colleague. This was not what I’d imagined, and sometimes I think I was better thought of as an intern, but my job pays the mortgage and keeps the wi-fi working. Some people don’t even have that. I try to count my blessings.

It’s just past lunchtime and to be honest, I’m looking forward to going home. I’m shattered after my early start and lost interest in whether James rings me or not. Then I hear it buzz on my desk. When I pick it up I find a text from Hannah, asking if I was up for some babysitting, which doesn’t help matters. I know she’s only asked me because I’m single again and I’m the only one who probably won’t have plans. I slide my phone back on to my desk, lean on my elbows, and start clock watching. Not the best time to do it as my new boss chooses that particular moment to walk into the office. I sit up and begin to shuffle papers on my desk in a bid to look efficient. He announces his arrival with a loud greeting as he strolls in through the glass doors. He looks nothing like the big business shark my colleagues had suggested. In fact, the opposite. He’s short, with a dumpy build and a round face. His hair’s dark grey and sits around his head like a halo. In the middle of the halo he’s totally bald. We’d expected a go-getter in a flashy Armani suit. He wears beige chinos, trainers, and an orange polo shirt. To be honest, he looked more like a man who was looking forward to a game of golf rather than taking the helm of a modern company, and he looks nothing like Mr. Makepiece who always wore a natty waistcoat and a bow tie to match.

‘Let’s get to know everyone,’ he says in a Mr. Tumble voice as he claps his hands together. ‘Everyone…stand up.’ I look around at the others in the office as we reluctantly stand behind our desks like children at school. Some look less than happy, others are giggling behind their hands. ‘When I point to you, say your name and what you do here.’ He pointed at each person in the room, waiting for them to say their name and position.

When it’s my turn I announce, ‘I’m Primrose Hill, and I manage the design department for signs and print campaigns.’ To be honest the design department is just me and a handful of artists we would hire from time to time. Once he’s satisfied he’s included everyone, he points at himself.

‘I’m Graham Lewis and I am the new owner.’ I think it was an attempt at humour, but unfortunately it falls rather flat. We all look at each other, not knowing if someone should say something to welcome him. Then a kind, and rather smart soul starts a round of applause. Obviously, we all join in, but I feel even less confident about keeping my job.

Through the rest of the day our new boss spends his time meandering in and out of the rooms of the office. He stops people in their tracks and asks them random questions. He perches on desks, looking over people’s shoulders as they work. He literally watched us all afternoon. It began to feel like we were working in a sweat shop, and if we made one mistake we’d get the axe, there and then. Was he looking for reasons to fire someone and cut the workforce? Could the chinos and polo shirt be a front, concealing a ruthless man with a swinging scythe?

I spot Mr. Lewis hanging around the break room. My desk is near the entrance which I like because I can watch people walking by. Even though I’m very much part of the office, I’m on the edge and means I’m usually left to my own devices. The day is drawing to a close; I’m due to finish in an hour and still there’s no word from James. I’d also managed successfully to avoid Mr. Lewis (renamed by me as Mr. Creepy) leaning over my shoulder to watch me work, and no doubt waiting for me to mess up. If he was looking to fire someone it wasn’t going to be me, so I keep my attention off my love life and totally concentrate on my work. Dates with the grandsons of neighbours don’t pay the mortgage.

Suddenly, a phone rings, shaking me out of my thoughts, and I automatically snatch up my mobile from my desk, but it has a blank screen. The phone on my desk rings, shrill and demanding to be answered, so I hurriedly grab the receiver.

‘Makepiece and Shine Advertising. This is Primrose. How can help you?’

A male voice answers. ‘Hello, Primrose. This is Aiden Taylor. You did some work for me about a year ago.’ I notice Mr. Creepy making his way towards me. I hope that if he realises I’m on the phone to a client he’ll leave me alone to get on with it.

‘Yes, Mr. Taylor, what can I do for you?’ I answer. I try to sound as professional as possible. Mr. Creepy is getting dangerously close.

‘I need a change in my current advertising campaign. My restaurant has undergone a major refurbishment and I would like the campaign to reflect it.’

‘Of course, Mr. Taylor. What did you have in mind?’

‘It’s a bit embarrassing, Primrose, but I hope you’ll understand. I’ve just broken up with my girlfriend. She’s a model and we used her image right through the campaign. I don’t know if you remember. Her face was all over the ads.’ Suddenly, I remembered; the campaign, and Aiden Taylor. I’d met him twice I think. He was lovely, very handsome, and great to work with, but I also remembered I hated that project. Not because of Taylor, but his girlfriend, Sofia. Sofia was always sending back whatever we pitched to her until everything was about her. Her face, her straplines. She was fine with everything as long as it was all about her. It was like we were trying to sell Sofia and enhance her modelling career, not entice people to eat at Aiden’s restaurant.

‘I see how that could be a problem, but I’m sure we can help you.’ I say, feeling myself smile a little. The demographics and target marketing of a product or venue I had always found rather confusing. The creative side and talking to real people was much more my style.

‘I think it would be better if I come in to your office and have a talk about this,’ he said, sounding a little unsure.

‘That would be perfect, Mr. Taylor.’ I check the diary. ‘Would next Tuesday suit you?’

‘That’s fine,’ he answers. ‘Is two o’clock okay?’

I check my diary again, wishing I was so booked up I didn’t have to pretend I was busy, and thinking that he and I have something in common since we’d both broken up with partners. ‘Two is good.’

‘Should I ask for Primrose Hill?’ I was surprised he remembered me after all this time. It was a good sign. He must have liked something about my work.

As I end the call, Mr. Creepy slams his hand down on the end of my desk, rattling the tiny figurine of a girl in a power suit Hannah gave me to wish me luck on my first day at the agency.

‘How you doin’, Laurel?’ he asks. I lean back as far as I can get without falling off my chair. He hovers so close I can feel his hot breath on my skin.

‘I’m well, thank you, Mr. Lewis. I was just speaking with a returning client who wants a new campaign for his restaurant.’

‘Sounds promising. What precisely do they want?’

‘A redesign on the current advertising for his restaurant,’ I answer as it occurs to me he has just called me Laurel. Did he, or didn’t he? Maybe I’m tired and I’m hearing things. My name is on a gold plaque on my desk. You can’t miss it.

He begins to talk about the importance of keeping our clients happy.

‘You know, Laurel, it is just as important to keep the clients we have, as it is to get new ones. To grow this company, we need a solid client base. We must put in the extra mile, even if it means staying late in the evenings. I’m thinking of having a regular late night for staff for brain-storming sessions. You’ll be expected to attend.’ Then he goes into a diatribe about how the design department is the backbone of the company, which I know he has already said to the graphics guys about the graphics department. I start to switch off as he drones on about how he was one of the brightest stars in business school, and how Makepiece and Shine has been run into the ground by the last owners, which is so not true.

While he’s talking I have a discussion with myself about whether I should correct him the next time he calls me Laurel. This guy has such a big ego I’m not sure whether correcting him is such a good idea. I stare at him while he continues bigging himself up. ‘I did this, Laurel, and I did that Laurel,’ clearly having a great time as he brags about his achievements. Goodness knows where he got the name from. There’s no one here called Laurel.

The people in the desks around me notice he’s using the wrong name. Well, I can’t correct him now, can I? He’ll look an even bigger idiot than he clearly is. I wonder why he’s calling me Laurel. The only Laurel I know is Laurel and Hardy. Oh, God, maybe he thinks I look like Stan Laurel and he can’t get it out of his head. I feel my shoulders slump. Great, just great. Not only am I as skinny as a rake with a nose like Concorde, I look like wimpy Stan Laurel.

I look across at the others and pull a face. Mr. Creepy doesn’t notice because he’s still banging on. I see Beth across the way from me, peeking from behind her computer, and Rick whispers to Karen who has her hand over her mouth, stifling a laugh.

‘So, Laurel, do you think you can pick up my dry cleaning and some coffee from that nice little coffee shop down the road. I’m not liking the coffee machine here. The stuff coming out of it tastes like dishwater.’ I stare up at him, tempted to ask when he last drank dishwater, but I resist. He wants me to run his errands, yet he has just said the design department is the backbone of the company.

‘Er, well, that’s not really part of my job,’ I start to say, but he interrupts me.

‘Come on, Laurel. I know you can handle this, don’t even worry about it,’ he says condescendingly. I swallow hard as he smirks at me. I start to protest, but the smirk has morphed into a laser stare that says, ‘All those who defy me shall perish.’

I nod. ‘Okay, Mr. Lewis.’ Feeling totally defeated, I ask him for his dry- cleaning ticket and blanch when he says, ‘The secretary, whatever her name is. Ask her.’

I drape some of Mr. Creepy’s dry cleaning over one arm and hook the rest over my fingers. He didn’t say he was having the contents of his wardrobe cleaned. In my other hand I have his coffee, my bag is slung over my shoulder, and my car keys are hooked over one finger. My mobile rings. For crying out loud, why now? I manage to free two fingers to reach into my bag, pinching the mobile between my index and middle fingers. I slowly raise the phone out. James’ name is on the screen. I try my best to get at it with my thumb but there is too much in my hand. I know if I don’t get to it, it’ll go to Voicemail and I really don’t want him to have to leave a message. This is so not going to plan. I do the only thing I can. I lift the mobile to my face, cross my eyes so I can see the little answer button on the screen, then press it against my nose, swiping left with my whole head. It works. Mm, perhaps my humongous nose has its uses after all. I hold the phone to my ear still only using two fingers.

‘Hello,’ I say, trying to make my voice sound sexy whilst doing my best to contain my excitement.

‘Hi, Primrose.’ James’ voice sounds a little weird over the phone, a little too smooth, and I don’t remember it as the voice from the guy I met in the hall outside my flat. ‘I hope I didn’t call you too soon. I know we guys are supposed to wait and maybe not be too eager, but I can’t get you out of my mind.’

‘No, James, it’s fine.’ I reply, trying to sound cool and in control while still doing a balancing act in the middle of the street.

‘A meeting I was due to attend tomorrow evening has been cancelled. I wondered if you’d like to have dinner with me?’

I scream on the inside. ‘What day is that?’ I ask nonchalantly, knowing that I’m as free as a bird.

‘It’s Thursday. I know it’s a weekday, and if you’d rather leave it until the weekend it’s fine.’ I can hear him breathing deeply on the other end of the line. He actually sounds quite nervous. It’s quite sweet that he’s apprehensive. I instantly forgive the too smooth voice.

‘I’m free tomorrow night. I’d love to go out.’ I answer, deciding to dispense with the cool act.

‘Great,’ he says, sounding relieved. ‘Can I pick you up at eight? I think I can remember where you live.’

Back at the office I can’t help smiling, even though I’m still miffed at Mr. Creepy thinking I’m his slave. The phone call from James turned a bad day into a brilliant one, and now I’m in a very good mood. I breeze into Mr. Creepy’s office, lay his dry cleaning on the leather sofa he’ll probably use as a casting couch, and put his coffee on his desk. He doesn’t even thank me for the extra effort, but nothing can spoil the mood I’m in. I’m happy.

Driving home, a smile still on my face, I realise how wonderful life is. Yes, I was down before, but I’m over the Marcus thing now. I’m not planning to marry James, I like my life as it is, but it’s just nice to know I still have what it takes; that I’m still in the game and ready to play. James might be Mr. Right, or he might be Mr. Wrong, I’ve had plenty of those, but it’ll be fun finding out.

Back at my apartment building I head upstairs to my flat, actually running up the stairs, something I wasn’t able to do this morning. As I get onto my floor, I hear a whimpering noise that gets louder the closer I get to my door. I begin to think that Lily’s cat, Dotty isn’t an apparition after all. Maybe it’s locked in somewhere. Standing by my front door, the whimpering sounds like words, a sort of chant. I pause and listen. The voice, because I’ve realized that’s what it is, sounds in distress. Then I realize the sound is coming from the other side of the hall, a little further down…from Lily’s flat. I quickly open my door and throw my stuff inside, then close and lock it. I make my way down the hall and listen at Lily’s door. It’s her voice I can hear, and she’s in trouble.

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