Authors: Emily Marcucci
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Amazon Edition | Copyright 2014 Emily Marcucci
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The six year little old girl’s laughter echoed around the forest as she charged through the grass towards the oak tree.
“Found you,” she shrieked, twirling around and pointing to the boy who was crouched behind the trunk. “Now it’s your turn to find me! Close your eyes.”
“We’ve been playing this game for hours, Rose. Let’s play something else,” he said, standing up and brushing the mud from his knees.
“You’re just saying that because I’m better at it than you are, Tom,” said Rose, grinning.
“That’s a lie,” Tom scowled, but Rose just laughed.
“Prove it, then.”
He folded his arms and furrowed his eyebrows, his mouth pressed into a hard line while he tried to think. Then, suddenly, he had an idea. “Do you still have the cookie your grandma gave you?”
She dipped into her pocket and pulled out a half-eaten cookie. There were bits of lint stuck to it and most of the chocolate had melted, but his eyes lit up nonetheless. “I bet I can beat you in a race.
If I win, you have to give me that cookie.”
She thought about it for a moment, but eventually nodded. “Okay. What do I get if I win?”
He delved into his own pockets and pulled out an orange flavoured lollipop. “If you win, I’ll give you this.”
Rose knew that Tom was much faster than she was at running, but this seemed like too good of a deal to pass up. Maybe she’d get lucky and he’d fall over.
“Okay,” she said cheerfully, carefully placing her cookie down on a tree stump. “Where shall we race to?”
“That fence right there,” he said, pointing to Rose’s back garden fence. It was only about 50 metres away, but Rose’s eyes widened. If it was a test of stamina then she might have stood a chance against him, but Tom knew all of her weaknesses. He placed his lollipop on the tree stump beside her cookie.
“Are you ready?” he asked, crouching down in the grass.
“I suppose,” she sighed, following his lead. His smug smile said it all.
“Get ready…get set…go!” he yelled, bouncing into the air and tearing across the field. By the time Rose had even stood up, he was already at least five metres ahead of her.
“That’s not fair, Tom,” she panted as she ran after him, but he wasn’t listening. By the time he’d touched the fence, she was only about three quarters of the way there.
“I win,” he screeched, pumping the air with his fist. “I bet I can beat you back to the tree stump too!”
This was Rose’s chance. She already had a head start,
she could win this time. Her fists clenched and her jaw tightened as she turned and ran as fast as she could towards the tree stump. But just as she was about to reach it, she heard his footsteps pounding alongside her, soon accompanied by his hot breath on the back of her neck. And sure enough, just as she was about to reach it, he cut in front of her. Even with a head start, she couldn’t beat Tom at a race.
“Better luck next time, slow coach,” he teased, snatching the goods from the stump. She scowled at him as he shoved the entire cookie into his mouth in front of her face, smacking his lips as he chomped.
“I’ll beat you next time,” she said, trying to wipe the grass stains from her dress.
“Wanna bet?” he smirked, unwrapping the lollipop and popping it into his mouth.
“I don’t have anything left to bet with,” she sighed.
“You just don’t want to do it because you know that I’ll win again.”
“That’s not true,” said Rose, the anger rising in her voice.
Tom just laughed. “Whatever, Rose.”
“I’m going home,” she said, turning on her heel and marching back through the grass towards her back garden.
“Rose, wait,” said Tom, but she didn’t turn around. “I’ll see you tomorrow at school, then,” he called after her as she slammed the gate. “Man, you’re such a sore loser!”
He was about to turn around and walk back to his own back gate, when suddenly he heard the ‘click’ of Rose’s gate opening again. Her face was livid as she marched back out onto the grass, and he grinned as she approached him.
“Am not,” she yelled, not stopping until she was mere inches away from his face. “Take it back, Tom.”
“I’ll take it back when you win,” he said with a grin.
“Fine, I’ll race you again,” she said, trying to hold back her anger.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said.
They got into their positions again — this time Rose copied Tom, crouching close against the floor and preparing to spring up.
“Okay. Ready, set—”
But Rose had leapt up before Tom had even finished. She knew she wasn’t going to win if she played fair, so this was the only chance she had. She could hear him shrieking her name behind her, but this only encouraged her to run faster. Alas, once again, it wasn’t long before she began to hear his footsteps closing in on her over the sound of her ragged breathing, and soon he was running alongside her. They were almost there, but he’d just managed to overtake her and was beginning to increase the gap between them; Rose did the only remotely sensible thing she could think of, and dived on top of him, grabbing him by the elbow to pull him down.
They tumbled to the ground with a yelp as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down with her. He landed on top of her, knocking the breath right out of her chest, but she held on.
There was no way he was beating her again.
“Get off me, Rose,” he laughed, writhing around in her arms. Tom was much stronger than she was, but somehow she managed to hang on. After what seemed like an eternity he relaxed, and they were left lying in a heap in the mud, their small hearts pounding.
“You cheated,” he said eventually, rolling off her and propping himself up on his elbows.
“It wasn’t cheating. I was using tactics,” she said triumphantly, raising her head to look at him. “Besides, you cheat all the time, Tom.”
He threw his head back as he laughed, his brown eyes sparkling.
She had a point
. “Okay, but I still win.”
“You didn’t cross the finish line,” she said.
He paused, opening his mouth as if getting ready to say something. But before Rose could react, he leapt up from the grass and sprinted across to the other side of the field.
“There, I crossed it,” he yelled, pumping the air with his muddy fist. “I’m still the champion.”
Rose sighed, but she couldn’t stifle her smile as she heaved herself up from the grass. “I’ll beat you one day, Tom Flynn.”
“I bet you won’t, Rose Evans,” he said, grinning as he watched her walk back to her garden and slam the gate behind her.
“You have no new messages,” sings the automatic voice recording.
“There’s a surprise,” grumbles Tom, slamming down the phone.
Ever since he started his new job at the accounting firm, every day had been the same: wake up, shower, go to work, listen to colleagues complain about work, come home from work, go to the gym, watch TV, go to sleep (and probably dream about work). Rinse. Repeat. For the past two years, this had been his life. Surely, at the ripe age of 23, there
be more to life than this? There
Tonight is the first time in at least two months that Tom has been able to meet up with his old friends from university, and he couldn’t be more relieved. They don’t get the chance to meet up very often—most of his friends are a couple of years older and have families now—but when they do, it’s always a good time. He can’t help grinning to himself as he takes off his work clothes and exchanges them for a comfortable pair of jeans and a white flannel shirt, dumping the crumpled grey suit into the washing basket.
Thank God it’s Friday.
There isn’t much time to waste before he meets everyone at the bar in twenty minutes, and he doesn’t want to be late. After all, when this is the first time you’ve been out in two months—and probably the last time you’ll be out for the next four months—you really want to make the most of every single second.
Before he leaves, he grabs a cheese sandwich from the fridge and fires up his laptop—an evening ritual—to see if he has any new responses to the dating ad he put up last week. He smiles a little as he clicks open the notification telling him that he has three new notifications,
but right now, there’s one name he’s looking for in particular, and Tom’s heart skips a beat when her name pops up on his screen.
He can already feel his palms beginning to sweat as he opens her message.
To: Tom Flynn
From: Lauryn Clarke
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hey!
Sent: 17:42, 2/11/13
Sure, coffee tomorrow would be great. How does 3pm sound to you?
I’m really looking forward to meeting you. I’m sure we’ll get along great!
See you soon,
Tom can’t hide his goofy grin as he reads it, and then reads it again. It’s almost too tempting to reply, but one glance at the clock tells him that it’s time to leave. He hesitates, and then closes the laptop.
Anyway, he doesn’t want to appear too eager…does he? Do women like that stuff? Surely it’s more mysterious and attractive if he at least pretends to have a life.
It’s been so long since he last went on a date that he’s beginning to get nervous already. What should he wear? What should he say? How should he act? What if she doesn’t even turn up?
He sighs, shaking his head as if to try and clear his mind and promising himself that he’s not going to let a single woman pass his mind tonight.
Just as he’s about to get into the car, his phone begins buzzing in his pocket. He pulls it out with a sigh, expecting it to be Luke asking why he’s not there yet. His stomach sinks when he sees the caller ID. It’s not Luke at all, it’s his mother. He considers ignoring it for a moment, but then picks up at the last second. He always feels guilty when he ignores her, but she’s starting to call more and more often, and it’s beginning to get strange. It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t constantly refer to him as her ‘sweetie,’ but he accepted a long time ago that this is something which will never change.
He doesn’t really blame her for worrying—hell, even he worries about himself half of the time—but it’s difficult not to get frustrated at her constant check-ups.
“Hey, Mom,” he says as cheerfully as he can manage.
“Hey, sweetie. How was work today?”
“It was alright, I guess,” he mumbles awkwardly, getting into the car. He thought he’d got past these awkward, meaningless conversations when he left high school, but apparently not.
“That’s great,” she says. She waits for him to say something, presumably hoping that he’ll ask her about her own day, but he doesn’t, so she carries on. “You’re coming for dinner tomorrow, right?”
“Yes, sweetie, did you forget? Your dad’s got some people over from work and he wanted you to meet them. They’ve got some daughters who—”
“I’ve got a date tomorrow night, Mom.”
There’s a long pause.
“Yeah,” he mutters, feeling his cheeks heating.
Damn, why does she have to talk to him like this?
“With a girl?”
“Yes, Mom,” he sighs, beginning to get agitated at her patronising tone.
“Oh, well why didn’t you say so? Go to your date, honey, we can meet up another night.” Her voice is filled with excitement and enthusiasm, and he can’t help but wince as she speaks.
“Okay. I’ll catch up with you guys later in the week, right? I have to go now, I’ve got somewhere to go.”
“Another date?” she says, her tone almost teasing.
“Bye, Mom,” he says, and hangs up the phone.
With a woman like her as his role model while he was growing up, is it really any wonder that he can’t get a girlfriend?
Tom is the last to arrive at the bar, and his friends slap his back affectionately as he sits down.
“It’s been too long,” his friend Luke says, pushing a beer in Tom’s direction. “How’s life?”
Despite not having spoken to him in over a month, Luke was always one of Tom’s closest friends in college. He only lives about a half hour away, but the majority of is time is taken up by his girlfriend. The rest of his time is mainly taken up by work — Luke is training to be a lawyer, and the hours he clocks in all week almost make Tom feel reassured that he’s an accountant.
“Same old,” says Luke. “Except we’re going to Tenerife in a couple of weeks. It’ll be nice to catch a break.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” laughs another one of his friends, James. “I can’t wait to get away. My wife and I are going to Las Vegas in a few weeks, it’ll be great fun. We haven’t spent time together like that in a long time.”
This time it’s Oliver, Tom’s friend from his accountancy degree course, who pipes up. “My wife’s off to Spain with her girlfriends this week, I’ve never been so happy to have the house to myself. All we do now is argue.”
“Aw, that sucks, man,” says Tom, immediately regretting his words when everyone’s eyes turn towards him.
“So how’s your love life, Tommy?” asks James, winking at him from across the table. “Still no luck?”
“I’ve got a few dates lined up,” says Tom, remembering his date with Lauryn tomorrow. “Just playing the field, y’know.”
“A few dates?” Oliver raises his eyebrows. “I’m almost jealous.”
Tom forces a laugh. “Yeah, I’m not quite ready to settle down just yet.”
“Remember all the fun we had in college?” says Luke. “Damn, I wonder where those girls are now.”
“I’m not sure that I’d like to know. They’d probably try and kill us if they ever saw us again,” laughs James.
Luke chuckles and nods his head. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“They knew it didn’t mean anything, though,” says Oliver. “It was all just a bit of fun.”
“I’m not so sure, some of them seemed pretty serious,” says Luke, sipping his beer. “Remember that girl, Sophie, I think her name was — she tried to make you get her pregnant?”
Oliver winces. “Yeah, there was definitely something wrong with that girl.”
They all laugh, and then Luke turns back to Tom. “You’re very quiet tonight. Is everything alright?”
“Me? Yeah, of course,” smiles Tom. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“He just can’t stop thinking about his date tomorrow,” winks James. “Where did you meet her?”
“Uh, work,” says Tom, taking a sip of his beer to hide his reddening cheeks. For some reason, he just isn’t ready to admit to his friends that he’s resorted to signing up to a dating website.
“She’s an accountant, too? Trust me, buddy, those relationships never work out. Seriously,
,” says Oliver.
“It’s just a bit of fun,” says Tom, trying to sound casual.
“You were always the committed, romantic one of the group. What happened?” asks Luke, leaning over the table. Tom feels his cheeks flushing all over again as everyone’s eyes bore into him.
“I just haven’t found the right one yet,” he sighs.
“Your time will come, buddy,” says Luke, winking. “Until then, just play the field.”
Tom nods, hoping that would be the end of the conversation, but James refuses to let it go.
been in love?” he asks, raising his eyebrows. “Even in college you never had anything long term. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but…” he trails off, his eyes dropping to the table.
Tom shakes his head. “Nope, never.” But for some reason, he can’t quite look his friend in the eye as the words leave his lips. Maybe it’s because the subject makes him uncomfortable, or maybe it’s because he’s lying. Even after all those years, maybe there’s someone he still thinks about.