I have left up my very first workings of my very first draft, which you are more than welcome to read, but they have already changed enormously since...
Karen’s head was banging, forcing her to concentrate even harder as she navigated the roads that would take her back to school.
“So much for my girl’s night out!” she muttered bitterly to herself.
Instead, her glamorous fun-filled evening out with her sister and friends now had extra-strong painkillers, meal for one, a huge bar of chocolate and a bottle of chilled white wine stamped all over it.
Her outfit was still all laid out on her bed from where she had started getting everything ready. She had been looking forward to tonight for weeks, months even, and she was finally going to get to wear her gorgeous new designer shoes for the first time too. It had been a silly dream of hers to own a pair of ‘real’ designer shoes one day, but she had saved up for months until she had enough to buy a pair in the sale and had just been waiting for the right occasion. Goodness knows when she’d get to wear them now.
And it was all her son-of-a-bitch ex-husband Rob’s fault!
He was supposed to be taking their girls this weekend but he’d phoned just over an hour ago to tell her that he couldn’t have them after all. He even had the nerve to tell her it was because his new girlfriend had surprised him with a weekend trip away and he couldn’t possibly say no and upset her after all the effort she’d gone to. This night out of hers had been planned for months and he knew how much it meant to her, but he’d had no problem spoiling her plans and upsetting both her and his own daughters for his new bit of stuff.
“Bastard!” she cursed under her breath.
She wouldn’t put it past him to have cancelled at the last minute just to spite her and… actually, no… that wasn’t fair on him she reluctantly admitted. He did seem to cherish and enjoy these weekends with his girls. He may well have torn her life apart when he had announced out of the blue that he was leaving her, shattering her heart into a million pieces and killing her self-esteem, but he had never been intentionally mean and hurtful to her. His new girlfriend, however, she had no doubt whatsoever that she would find a way to screw their amicable relationship and sabotage the girls visiting their Dad even if he couldn’t see what she was up to. That girl was jealous of anybody else getting his attention and that included his children.
Telling Molly she wasn’t going to Daddy’s after all had been traumatic enough and had triggered her daughter’s most impressive tantrum to date; fifty-minutes so far and still counting! Who wouldn’t have a headache after that? Molly hadn’t even been two when they’d separated but now two years on, she thought the sun shone out of Daddy’s ‘proverbial’. She always came home with tales of how much Daddy had played with her and Jess, how he never got cross with them and how they could eat whatever they wanted and stay up late watching films.
She winced with the throbbing pain in her temples as Molly took her screaming to a new previously unattainable level of both pitch and volume. Pulling up at a set of traffic lights, a pedestrian crossing the road even peered into the car, obviously able to hear the racket and probably checking that the child inside wasn’t being murdered.
“Ugh, how is Jess going to take it?” she wondered, cringing at the prospect.
Six-year-old Jess was a proper little daddy’s girl, the apple of his eye and she worshipped him in return. They had always had a strong relationship and if she was brutally honest, she had always been a bit jealous of their close bond. Jess was going to be absolutely devastated when she turned up at school to collect her instead of him. Jess had been especially excited this weekend because he had promised to take them to the park and teach her how to fly a kite. Well that wasn’t going to happen now, and she would be the one left to pick up the pieces and try to fix her poor little girl’s broken heart.
Throwing her car into a parent-child space, Karen liberated a thrashing Molly from her car seat and marched into the supermarket, dumping Molly into a trolley along the way to avoid her flinging arms and legs. Karen was all too aware that she was attracting the stares of shoppers and staff alike as Molly continued her screaming fit. The noise and her embarrassment as well as the store’s bright lights seemed to join forces, amplifying her headache even more and bringing tears to her eyes
“Could this day get any worse?” she wondered. She just wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. Determined to be in and out of the store within five minutes flat, she made a dash for the pharmacy aisle first to try and find the holy grail of pain relief.
“Excuse me madam, can I help you at all?” asked a deep male voice from just behind her.
Turning around sharply, she saw a member of staff standing barely two feet away. A tall man, in his mid twenties at a guess, with the kind of movie-star looks that she would have to be blind not to notice. And he was looking right at her. She actually felt her heart flutter under his scrutiny until she noticed he was in a suit version of the uniform instead of the regular one, causing any pleasant thoughts she’d been having about him to evaporate just as quickly as they had appeared.
Assuming he was ‘the Management’ come to have a go at her about the disturbance she was causing, she got ready to take a stand even if that meant creating an even bigger scene and further humiliation. She hoped it might at least be a good release for some of this pent up stress and anger that she was struggling to keep contained. All set to launch into an angry tirade and defend her right to do her shopping, she looked into his eyes properly and the words died in her throat, thwarted by his expression; he wasn’t looking even the slightest bit cross or judgmental, as she had expected, but his eyes were full of sympathy and concern.
“Um, no, I’m fine thanks,” she eventually said. Caught completely off guard by his kindness, she looked down to hide her rapidly filling eyes, determined not to make an even bigger fool of herself in front of her audience.
“Are you sure?” he asked, lowering his voice and stepping closer, just in time to see a tear run down her cheek and splash onto the hard floor. “Please don’t think me rude, but you look like you could really use a break right about now.”
“Ha, you can say that again!” she thought miserably, as another tear betrayed her state of mind.
“How about taking this little one to the café and getting yourselves a drink or a snack?” he suggested, his voice radiating compassion and a desire to try and help. “Just tell them Scott sent you and it will be on the house. I can even grab the rest of your shopping if you like, to save you some time?”
Shaking her head, she looked up and managed a slight smile for him, no longer caring about the tears making tracks down her cheeks. He seemed so keen to try and cheer her up a bit and she appreciated him trying. Even Molly had gone quiet, looking quizzically at the man talking to her Mummy and making her cry.
“Thank you, that’s really kind and generous of you and it sounds wonderful, but I can’t,” she sniffed, trying to stifle a sob. “I only have a few minutes before I have to do the school run. I only popped in to grab a couple of things on the way so that I don’t have to come out again later.”
Dropping her head again, she explored the contents of her handbag looking for a tissue that hadn’t already been used on one of the girls. She had expected him to leave at that point so was startled when his strong hand took hers, turning it over gently and pressing a clean folded tissue into her palm.
“In that case, I’d better not hold you up any longer,” he said, his clear blue eyes that were the colour of the ocean locking with her green ones, sending her heart fluttering again. “I hope your day improves.”
“It just did,” she thought dreamily, gazing back into his eyes momentarily enchanted, his hand still holding hers and sending tingles shooting up her arm. His eyes seemed to be searching for something but she had no idea what.
Seeming to suddenly remember where he was, she could almost see him mentally shake himself before dropping his eyes and letting go of her hand. “Erm, I’d best get on,” he mumbled, turning to walk away.
“Me too,” she said, her tears drying up. “Bye, and thanks again.” she called after his retreating figure, He paused and looked back at her, smiling and giving her and Molly a small wave that made her smile and filled her with warmth inside, before watching him disappear down a different aisle.
“Wow, what just happened?” she thought, grabbing the last of her shopping and keeping an eye open for him. “Who was that guy?”
* * *
Back at home, Karen collapsed on the settee curling her legs underneath her. She was exhausted and felt completely drained after bearing the brunt of Jess and Molly’s despair and frustration all afternoon. She had never been so glad to have them fed, bathed and into bed for the night and she was already on her much-needed third glass of wine.
Sitting with her book on her knee but not really seeing it, a mellow CD playing in the background, she waited for her ready meal to finish cooking in the oven. It was a far cry from the night she was supposed to be having. There wasn’t even anything decent on television to take her mind off what she ‘should’ be doing right about now. Having already put her clothes back in the wardrobe, she hadn’t been able to do the same with her shoes yet and wasn’t relishing putting them back in the cupboard to gather dust, not knowing when they’d next come out. It was a bit too much like the story of her life really.
Here she was, at the age of twenty-five, sitting at home and feeling all washed up and passed it already. Good friends were few and far between and her social life was almost non-existent, except when her sister took pity on her and invited her out, as had been the plan tonight.
Her shock split with Rob had caused a huge rift between their mutual friends, which was basically all of her oldest friends, and of those friends that had stood by her, most were still single or childless. They were generally too busy to call round to see her any more, off living their own carefree lives that seemed to revolve around work and partying. On the rare occasion that she did see them, they seemed awkward around her, never really knowing what to say. The only thing she could guarantee about them was that they wouldn’t be sat at home moping on a Friday night. As a divorced single mum of two, she now had very little in common with them, their lives having grown further and further apart over the years, arriving at the harsh conclusion that she simply didn’t fit in with them any more. To everyone else, she was just ‘Jess and Molly’s mum’, making her feel like she didn’t have an identity of her own any more.
She had never felt so lonely.
Her mind wandered back to the highlight of her day, replaying her brief encounter with Scott at the supermarket. His compassion had been the only good thing that had happened to her today. Not only had he noticed her, a rarity in itself, but he had also paid her some attention and even seemed to care about her feelings. She felt like a giddy schoolgirl with a major crush, the way her body kept reacting to him with all that fluttery heart and nerve tingling business. He was certainly gorgeous enough to develop a crush on though with his fair hair, big blue eyes, strong cheekbones and full lips. He was quite a bit taller than her too, although that wasn’t difficult seeing as she was only five-foot-six, which would put him around the six-foot mark. “I wonder what he’s doing tonight,” she thought, tossing ideas around until it came down to two options; the first that he was out somewhere classy with a super glamorous girlfriend, the second that he was down the pub with a load of his mates for a lads night out.
She virtually jumped out of her skin when the doorbell rang. She wasn’t expecting visitors, especially after nine o’clock at night, so she got up and looked out of the window to check who was there and couldn’t believe her eyes. “Bloody hell, it’s him!” she thought as her pulse-rate quickened. So he hadn’t gone out at all, he was standing right there on her doorstep.
Dashing into the hallway, she opened the front door and felt that telltale flutter as soon as she set eyes on him, her pulse now racing. He was looking just as handsome as he had before, only now he had a smart woollen jacket covering his uniform that could have looked a bit prissy on a lot of men but on him it worked. There was no detracting from his masculinity as the coat made his already broad shoulders look huge, before tapering down to define his trim waist and what appeared on first impressions to be a firm pair of buttocks atop long toned legs.
“Scott?” she asked, her voice came out nearly an octave higher than usual in her surprise, wondering what he was doing at her house and puzzled at how he knew where she lived. She really hoped she wasn’t blushing, giving herself away that she’d just been caught red-handed thinking about him.
“Hi, yes, that’s right” he said, looking up at her with a guarded expression on his face. “I wasn’t sure if you’d remember me.”
“Hi?” she replied, managing to turn even that simple word into a question, amused at the idea of having forgotten him so quickly. Surely he knew that he was incredibly good-looking and capable of turning heads wherever he went but he seemed more humble and self-deprecating than arrogant and big-headed.
“Sorry to disturb your evening Mrs Reynolds, but you left this at one of the checkout’s earlier,” he said formally, handing over her purse.
“Good grief!” she said, stunned both by having lost her purse and by the dramatic change in his demeanour. “I hadn’t even realised it was missing, I don’t think I’ve been in my handbag since.” Accepting the purse from him, her fingers accidentally brushed against his sending yet another shockwave through her arm. “Another freaky thing to add to the list of freaky reactions,” she thought to herself.
“I got your name and address from your driver’s licence,” he said, by way of an explanation. “I only live around the corner so I volunteered to drop it back to you personally on my way home.”
“Wow! Thank you,” she said smiling, her voice full of relief, “and please call me Karen.”
“My pleasure… Karen,” he said and judging by the look on his face, he meant it too so she couldn’t understand why he was being so uptight and formal with her this time.
“That’s the second time you’ve come to my rescue today so that must make you my very own knight in shining armour for the day.” Mortified and cringing at what she had just said, she turned her flaming face away from him trying to hide her embarrassment. She could feel her cheeks getting even redder as she replayed the words over and over again in her mind.
“Oh well, er, I don’t know about that,” he said softening slightly, but as he spoke she saw something unexpected flash behind his eyes, pride or restraint perhaps. Intrigued, and with her senses screaming at her to make him stay a little bit longer, she realised that he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave either.
“Would you like to come in for a drink?” she asked, her confidence buoyed by the half a bottle of wine she’d already consumed as there was no way she would have had the nerve to invite him otherwise. “I’d like to offer my thanks for your help today.”
“No that’s okay,” he said reservedly, “I should probably be going now anyway and I wouldn’t want to impose on you and your husband any further than I have already.”
“No husband,” she blurted out, wiggling the fingers on her left hand at him before she could stop herself. He paused looking curiously back at her, probably trying to decide whether she was drunk or desperate or maybe even both the way she was behaving. “We’ve been divorced a couple of years now, I’ve only kept the name for the sake of my children,” she continued, not wanting him to go away believing that she was married.
“So, how about that drink then?” she asked, seeing his facial muscles relaxing and his resolve wavering. “There’s a bottle of wine open already and you are more than welcome to join me, it’s so depressing to drink alone.”
“In that case, I’d be delighted Karen,” he said, his eyes suddenly alive again and radiating pure mischief. “I wouldn’t want to fail in my duties as your knight in shining armour and I do believe it’s part of the job description to help the damsel in distress,” he said as he bowed very formally towards her. She burst out laughing, which he seemed to delight in.
Feeling oddly relaxed and comfortable around him now that he’d dropped the formal façade, she reached out her hand to him to lead him inside.
© Aurelia B. Rowl
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