Looking for Ms Right – Sneak peek
‘Hmm, I think I’ll have a latte, please.’ Kemi paused. ‘Extra large.’
The barista turned away from Kemi to attend to her order, leaving Kemi to peruse the goodies arrayed before her. Namely flapjacks – Kemi’s favourites. As far as she was concerned they were a miracle of the modern world.
I’m nearly thirty and the only thing that excites me these days are cakes. She sighed as her eyes took in a flapjack. Ooh a new flavour. Orange and walnut. Fruity and a bit nutty. Sounds like …
Her thoughts were interrupted by the barista placing a huge two-handled cup of steaming foamy latte in front of her.
‘Anything else, Kemi?’ The fair-haired woman behind the counter said, a hand poised by the till, the other supporting her slightly portly frame by leaning on the counter.
The smell of sugar-laden baked treats suddenly wafted across Kemi’s nostrils, filling her head, screaming for her attention, talking to her, begging her to buy one, take it away and put both it, and herself, out of their misery. But as always, right in the middle of temptation, thoughts of her three best friends came to mind. It was almost as if she could hear them whispering in her ear. Chloe, who had the discipline of an athlete, would be the first to tell her to get a grip – that she was a fool to let her sugar addiction get the better of her. While Laura on the other hand would be kinder and tell her to do as she pleased – as long as it was within reason. Whereas Maddie, independent, feisty Maddie, would challenge the fact Kemi needed to be told what to do in the first place.
‘You could do with putting a bit of meat on your bones,’ June said looking down at her own figure. ‘Nothing wrong with an extra layer.’
‘Nah, not today. Maybe tomorrow,’ Kemi said, thinking of Chloe’s look of disapproval.
Kemi gave a nod of thanks, took a free table at the back of the café and settled herself in. This was her favourite spot, where she could observe what was going on in both the café and out on the street. It also meant nobody could see what she was looking at on her laptop when she fired it up and got working. A perfect mix of privacy and nosiness.
Just before her screen jumped to life, Kemi glanced up and caught a reflection of herself. Her hair pulled back away from her face in simple braids, brown eyes, a gleaming soft complexion and high cheekbones now coming back to prominence. Her lips were full, and today, tinted with a soft red lipstick.
What was it about this face in front of her, which to her looked nice, friendly, cheerful and positive, meant nobody saw her as long-term relationship material? Her most recent relationship had only lasted a few weeks and never really got past the getting to know you stage. The more Kemi got to know, the less she liked, so for a change she had ended it. Cue the downward spiral. Too many large lattes and flapjacks.
Kemi flicked through a couple of news sites while she sipped on her latte, her job as a TV newsreader meant that keeping up with current events was the least she could do. Nothing of any great importance there so she navigated her way to one of her favourite dating sites.
For a month Kemi had steered clear, determined to get her head right before she tried again. Three days ago, she had started looking, sending messages to the women who she thought were attractive, and hoping to get some kind of reaction back to her own profile with its updated profile pictures.
She checked her message inbox. Tumbleweed was blowing around its empty desert-like interior. Nothing, not even a nudge, or a poke. Just as it had been for the last three days.
OK, it might not happen overnight, she tried to convince herself.
She set her preferences and clicked search, waiting while the site’s database pinged its algorithms and brought up ten or more pages of people they determined met her specifications. She wasn’t overly picky at this stage, living within twenty miles and having a pulse would do for a start.
Ten minutes later and already on page three, Kemi found one. Attractive, about the right age, and not too far away. It took another five minutes for her to compose a suitably worded message. Jaunty, mildly flirty, and overwhelmingly positive, avoiding any possible hint of desperation. She read it again and with a gulp of anticipation, pressed send.
On to page four, one possibility from thirty profiles so far was a little on the lean side. Maybe she was being too choosy. The dating sites, by and large, relied on looks as one of the key factors for success whereas Kemi was often as attracted to the right personality as she was by the person’s appearance. A desirable balance between the two was always a tough thing to find. She went back to her own profile and edited her bio to try and inject more of her own personality into it.
Kemi was a bright and cheerful person. She loved her job but wasn’t ruled by it 24/7 like so many people her age seemed to be. She enjoyed nights out, not clubbing though, not any more, that scene was led by the teens and early-twenties. She had been there for a few years and gave it up as the meat market it always seemed to be. A nice restaurant, a night out at a good film, even just a gentle hour or two in a bar. They were all fine, but trying to make herself heard over throbbing bass beats? Nah, not so much.
For nights in, she loved to cook, the result of years standing by her mother’s side as she prepared food for her family: Kemi, her two brothers, and her husband, Kemi’s dad.
It was a family that meant the world to Kemi but had drifted apart as the years went by. Her two brothers were both now married, with families of their own. One had moved back to Nigeria; she spoke to him on Skype once a month. The other was up in Manchester, lecturing in University on applied physics. He was also married with a pregnant wife about to give birth, so the chances she would get to see him much were less than zero.
Her dad had died two years ago. Heart attack. She tried not to think about it too much as it was still raw, more so because she had not come out to her parents and he hadn’t known the truth about her before he died. No point raking over those coals now.
Kemi looked up over the top of her laptop as two new customers came into the café. An old couple, holding hands, talking to each other as they ordered, laughing and joking and oohing over the baked goods, tactile even in their golden years.
Once they had their order they took up a table near the front of the shop, seemingly unable to tear their gazes away from each other. Kemi couldn’t help but smile and take heart. It seemed to lift her spirits slightly to think that people could still be so obviously in love at that age.
She looked back to her laptop and headed to page four.
Don’t be fussy, a good profile and a nice picture and maybe play the numbers game. The more messages she sent, the more likely she would be to get a response, even if it was a ‘no thanks’. Any reply would be good at that time just to prove she wasn’t completely invisible and wasting the twenty quid a month the site was costing her.
Four messages later, nothing had come back. Now she remembered why she had sworn off dating sites – all of the women she chose to contact only seemed to be looking for a one-night stand. It wasn’t that Kemi was averse to that kind of thing, but at her age, she was being honest with herself – she wanted more than a single meaningless night of gratification and empty morning promises to call each other.
The sound of the door opening and closing quickly dragged her eyes away from the screen. An older lady had come in, and she looked angry, eyebrows firmly down and crunched together. She stomped over to the table where the old, loving couple were seated and leant down on it, much to their surprise.
‘I thought I’d find you in here, and with this slut from the bowls club too.’ She reached out a hand and grabbed the man by the cloth of his jacket, pulling him out of his seat in one easy movement. ‘You said never again when I caught you last time. Now, get out of here and get back home.’ She nudged him towards the door then turned to the other woman. ‘And you keep your mitts off him you hussy.’
The woman stormed out, calling at her husband to wait. Kemi watched them as he was lambasted continually while they walked past the window, then they were gone.
Hi Hun, you feeling horny? I could meet up with you tonight if you are up for it?
She read the message through twice more, just to make sure it meant what she thought it did.
Kemi shook her head sadly, dropped the lid of the laptop closed, and looked over at June behind her counter.
‘Two flapjacks, please. To go.’
Chloe sat on the king-size bed as Flo methodically emptied her chest of drawers into the suitcase that was lying open on top, its lid leaning back against the wall behind it.
‘Why are you doing this, Flo?’
‘Because it’s best… for both of us. Look, you know how things ain’t been right these last few weeks and …’ Flo stopped momentarily and gave Chloe a forlorn look. ‘I was going to tell you later … I got that job I was going for—’
Chloe frowned, not quite understanding what a new job had to do with Flo wanting to throw the towel in on their relationship. ‘That’s great news—’
‘It’s not in London.’
‘So what? Even if it’s in Manchester we can still see each other at weekends …’ Chloe said nervously. ‘Can’t we?’
Flo’s gaze dropped to the floor. Her normally serene features taut with worry. When she spoke, Chloe could barely hear her. ‘I’m moving to Japan.’
Chloe tilted her head, unsure of what Flo had said. Her whole world was suddenly spinning on its axis. No, she couldn’t have said Japan. Did she? ‘Japan?’
Flo nodded. ‘The company are opening a new branch there and they want me to get it up and running.’
Chloe had stopped listening. The only thing rattling around in her brain was the word Japan. ‘Japan? That’s … that’s … the other side of the world.’
Flo turned back to continue packing. ‘I’m fully aware of that.’
‘And you still took the job?’ Chloe stared at her hands in her lap, folded against the tartan fabric of her pyjama bottoms. It was two in the afternoon and she hadn’t got dressed. The last four hours had been spent in one long, temper-free argument about what was happening between them culminating in the situation she now found herself in.
‘Yes, I took the job. Wouldn’t you?’
‘Not without discussing it with you first, no.’
Flo turned again to face Chloe. This time there was no compassion in her eyes. Just a steely determination. Chloe knew in that instant there wasn’t any point in trying to talk her out of it. Once Flo’s mind was made up that was it. End of discussion. Chloe couldn’t believe she had actually thought that it was an attractive trait once upon a time.
‘And what good would that’ve done? It’s the same old thing with you, trying to talk me out of doing what I want, putting the pressure on to be “safe”. It’s been like that for two years and I’ve had it.’
‘So, you’re taking a job on the other side of the world just to get away from me?’
Flo sat down beside a downcast Chloe on the bed. Deliberately too far away for Chloe to hug her.
‘For your information, no I didn’t. I applied for this job, as you know, six months ago. Look, to be honest I was already feeling like things weren’t right between us. Even if I hadn’t got the job, we would’ve still broken up sooner or later. You’ve put so much pressure on us … had such high expectations, that I just find it impossible to be the person you want me to be.’
Chloe couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was as if Flo was talking about someone else. Not her – the woman who had supported Flo through thick and thin.
‘Is it really that difficult to just be kind to someone and love them?’ Chloe asked, the lump in her throat made it difficult to swallow.
‘It isn’t difficult most of the time but it’s impossible the whole time. You never let up.’
Chloe cringed as she dropped her gaze back to her lap again. She knew the words that were about to leave her mouth bordered on desperation, but that’s exactly what she felt. ‘Would it help if I begged you to stay?’
‘No.’ Flo sounded exasperated now. ‘That’s exactly the kind of thing that makes me want to go, Chloe. You need to be less … I don’t know … dependent. You’re a really nice person but sometimes you’re just too clingy, too needy. You need to be you.’ Flo leant over and tipped up Chloe’s chin to look her in the eye. ‘Not whoever you think you should be for whoever you’re with. Even after all this time, I still don’t feel like I know the real you.’
Chloe looked at Flo and managed a weak smile although all she really wanted to do was cry.
‘Listen, Chloe, my cab is going to be here in an hour. Why don’t you go out for a bit?’ Flo wasn’t asking Chloe, she was telling her. ‘When you come back, I’ll be gone, and you can get on with finding who that person is.’
Chloe gave a dazed nod as the desire to fight for the woman she loved slowly receded. She couldn’t work out whether she should be angry with Flo, herself, or with life in general. All she knew at that moment in time was that Flo had hit a nerve. Everything she had said was true. But how could Chloe have revealed her true self when she didn’t even know who that was?
Wearily, Chloe got to her feet and pulled a pair of jeans on over her PJ bottoms and a hoodie over her tartan top. Tying her hair in an imperfect ponytail, she slipped on her trainers before reaching over to her handbag and taking out her purse.
She could feel Flo’s eyes on her the whole time.
‘Where will you go?’
‘Don’t know yet. I’ll find somewhere.’ Chloe was determined not to cry in front of Flo, but she could feel that tell-tale prickling stinging her eyes.
‘OK. Well, this is goodbye then.’
‘Are you sure?’ Chloe took a step towards Flo then stopped in her tracks when Flo held her hands in mid-air. Signalling for her to not come any closer. ‘I really could change and—’
‘No, Chloe,’ Flo said with finality. ‘Let’s just say our goodbyes and go our own way. It will be best in the long run, trust me.’
Chloe stared for a moment then dropped her head. ‘If you say so.’
‘I do. And remember what I said.’
Flo had said many things. But the only one that remained was Flo telling her it was over. Without another word, Chloe headed out through the bedroom door. She knew it was pointless trying to stem the hot tears that spilt down her cheeks.
‘If you’re looking for Kemi, you just missed her, she was here fifteen minutes ago.’
Chloe looked over at a grinning June, wondering what it must be like to be so jolly all the time. In all the years she had been drinking coffee from the quaint café, she had never seen June in a bad mood. Not once. Chloe had often wondered if she was on medication, but soon put that thought out of her mind. It wasn’t like her to be so cynical.
‘Did she say anything?’ It was all Chloe could think of asking.
‘Not really, she looked a bit fed up, truth be told. Took two flapjacks with her when she left.’
‘Two? Bloody hell, something must have upset her.’
‘She was on her laptop if that helps. Anyway, what can I get you?’
‘I’ll have a small Americano, thanks, June.’
Once Chloe had her drink, she took a table at the back of the shop away from prying eyes. She sent Flo a text, asking her if she was sure what she was doing was the right thing, and that she would be straight back if she changed her mind.
The first ten minutes were agonisingly slow as Chloe simply stared at her phone, willing it to ring, praying that Flo would reply to her text. After typing three separate messages she deleted each one as the words Flo had spoken echoed around in her head. ‘Needy. Clingy.’ Somehow implying that Chloe was playing a role. ‘You need to be you.’
The problem was that ever since Chloe could remember, she had always played a role. She had been a dutiful daughter to her parents, regardless of the fact that they had neglected her for the best part of her childhood. If it hadn’t been for her older sister, she would probably never have been fed. But it wasn’t the physical neglect that hurt the most, it was the emotional. They had shown more interest in drinking and watching TV than they had nurturing Chloe. It was pretty obvious to her that she was no more than an annoyance and a hindrance to them. Not once had either of her parents read her a bedtime story. A small thing, but it left Chloe very jealous of all the kids at school whose parents did, and it was from there that the lies started.
Lies about the things her mum and dad did with her. Parties, presents, holidays – every one of them a complete fabrication but told so often that, by the time she was eighteen and ready to leave home, she couldn’t remember what was true and what wasn’t.
Then, as soon as she started having intimate relationships, she would not only make things up about her past and her family, she would be overcome with the need to act out the role of the perfect girlfriend for whoever she was with. All she ever craved in return, as with her parents, was a little bit of attention. But when the attention stopped she would start acting out by being overly possessive, which always had a predictable result.
The end of the relationship.
Chloe put down her phone. What to do now? How did she go about working out who the person was beneath her mask? How did one learn how to act ‘normally’ with someone?
She had no idea.
Her hour was nearly up, and her Americano was long gone. Chloe finally managed to drag herself up off her chair and start the torturous journey back home. Back to her empty flat. To a life where she hid from herself.
She remembered the day her mum had called her that. It was the one comment that she had been determined to prove wrong. And she had. Though her personal life might have resembled a train wreck, her professional one was the complete opposite.
As of five years ago, Chloe owned and ran a large events organisation where she could be in control of everything.
Chloe turned the key in her front door and entered the flat. Everything was as it was before and for a fleeting moment, she wondered if Flo had stayed after all. Chloe soon realised Flo was long gone when she checked the bedroom.
Then the strangest thing happened. Chloe realised she was glad Flo was gone. It meant she had a chance to start again. To avoid making the mistakes of the past, to find herself as Flo had so aptly put it. Suddenly, she understood what a mean feat that would be.
Chloe had no idea who she was, but she was determined that in time she would find that one special person that was out there somewhere, waiting to love her. And only her.
Copyright 2018 by Jade Winters
All rights reserved. This short story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.