Adventures In Romance by Sue Johnson

When I was a child I’d had two dreams. The best one was that I wanted to be a famous writer like J K Rowling. The other was when a handsome prince whisked me away to his castle for a fairy-tale wedding where we’d live happily ever after.

The first dream died when I was eleven and Miss Harris asked us what we wanted to do when we grew up. She told me I should think about being a nurse.

I lost interest in school after that.

Mum was disappointed when I took a job on the checkouts at Quikmart instead of going to college.

“Getting married isn’t the only choice open to you, Lisa,” she said when she saw me leafing through a copy of ‘Bride’ magazine. “Sometimes things don’t work out as you expect them to.” She’d turned away so I couldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

She hadn’t had an easy life. Dad died when I was ten and she’d had to support us by working at the biscuit factory. She’d not re-married and was happiest at home knitting or sewing.

I’d still not lost my belief in fairy-tales and spent many hours in Quikmart dreaming that Mr Right came to my checkout. I imagined our eyes meeting over the conveyor belt of groceries, sparks flying when our fingers touched as I handed him his change.

During our coffee breaks the other girls laughed at my stories about the men I’d gone out with. They said they were better storylines than East Enders.

“I met Tom on Monday. His breath smelled like he’d been eating pickled onions for a week. He wondered why I wouldn’t kiss him.” I counted on my fingers. “I met Bill on Tuesday and he spent all night talking about the mating habits of his ferrets and winking suggestively at me. Sam was on Wednesday and he had trouble finding his wallet. Then last night Bob didn’t turn up at all...”

Cathy brought me a leaflet for ‘Hearts United.’ She’d used them last year, met Mike and was getting married at Christmas. ‘Hearts United’ sent me Cameron’s details and I agreed that he looked perfect for me.

When I told Mum at tea time on Saturday I was going on another date she looked worried, “It’s not too late to go back to college, Lisa,” she said. “I’m going to.”

“You are? What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to do soft furnishings. Who knows – I might even set up my own little business one day.” Her face was glowing. Her eyes sparkled and she looked happier than she’d done for a long time.

“Why don’t you come with me?” she said, shoving a college leaflet into my bag.

“There might be something that takes your fancy.”

As I walked to the ‘Black Bear’ I tried to remember what I’d put on my ‘Hearts United’ form. I hadn’t lied exactly – just stretched the truth a little.

Mum always said: “Lisa, if you’re going to tell whoppers you need a better memory than yours.”

I wasn’t lying exactly, but ‘working in sales’ sounded better than ‘checkout operator’ and ‘cottage with river frontage’ sounded better than ‘rented house with a muddy ditch at the bottom of the garden.’

Cameron sounded really posh. He owned a construction business. He had a country retreat in Wales and he drove a red sports car. On his ‘Hearts United’ form he’d written: “Fairy-tale prince seeks beautiful princess for lasting happiness.”

I lingered in the toilets fiddling with my hair and make-up feeling nervous in case he didn’t turn up – after all there’d been no sign of a red sports car in the car park.

I pushed open the door to the Saloon Bar wondering why he’d chosen to meet here for our first date. I know ‘Hearts United’ advised meeting in a public place to start with, but I couldn’t help wishing we’d gone somewhere more glamorous. I glanced at my watch. He was late. I wondered if he’d changed his mind. The local darts team had arrived to play a match and some of them were giving me the eye.

“You must be Lisa.” A man in a dark suit that looked too small for him moved towards me.

“It’s Cameron,” he said, pulling me close and kissing me on the cheek.

His aftershave was so strong it made my head spin. He had dark greasy hair and flecks of dandruff on his collar. I’d seen him before somewhere. He looked older than the photo he’d sent to ‘Hearts United.’

He ordered drinks at the bar and we sat at a table in the corner. He seemed nervous and kept running a finger round the inside of his collar. He looked at his watch every few minutes and it was hard to find something to talk about. He wouldn’t discuss his work or even tell me the name of his company.

“Secret deal in the pipeline,” he said, touching a finger to the side of his nose.

A roar went up from the darts crowd as someone scored a winning double. Cameron edged closer to me so that our thighs were touching.

“What’s happening in the world of sales?” he asked, putting a hot hand around my waist.

I choked on my glass of wine, wishing I’d prepared some smart answers.

“Oh, you know. Busy.” I croaked.

Cameron squeezed me closer, nuzzling at my neck.

Another roar went up from the darts crowd.

“You look so familiar, I can tell we’re right for each other,” Cameron said, squeezing my thigh as if he was testing bread for freshness.

His bloodshot brown eyes were very close to mine and I felt uneasy. Things were moving too quickly even for a fairytale romance.

“Just going to the loo,” I said, pulling myself away from Cameron’s hot grasp.

I sat in the Ladies feeling miserable. I thought of all the years I’d wasted chasing my stupid dream of a fairytale romance. I thought of Mum working in the factory and nursing her own dreams and I started to cry. As I rummaged in my bag for a tissue, I pulled out the college leaflet she’d given me. I expected it to be full of things like boring maths and science. I couldn’t believe it when I saw an advert that said: ‘Ever wanted to write good stories and get them published ....”

That other dream I’d had as an eleven year old girl – about writing stories – had never really gone away. I just hadn’t known what to do about it – until now.

Then I remembered where I’d seen Cameron before and knew that the sooner I got out of here the better.

I thought I could make a quick exit but he loomed out of the shadows by the entrance to the toilets.

“Shall we go back to your place?” he whispered, stroking my arm.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Your wife wouldn’t like it.”

His face flushed. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen you in the supermarket,” I said softly. “With your children. You shouted at me last week because I gave you the wrong scratch card.”

He let out a roar of anger. “You’re that dreamy girl on the Quikmart checkout. Well you’ve told some whoppers on your intro form haven’t you?”

He would’ve said more, but the barman called him.

“Your wife’s on the warpath, Stan. She’s on her way down here.”

“I’d be on your way too, Miss,” he said, winking at me.

“Don’t worry, I’m going,” I said.

“Try telling the truth next time,” said Cameron/Stan nastily.

“If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black,” I said. “And there won’t be a next time.”

Mum was pleased when I told her I’d be going to college with her in September. We celebrated with a bottle of sparkling wine left over from Christmas. I deleted the ‘Hearts United’ stuff from my laptop. I didn’t need their help any more. Like Mum, I was more than capable of finding my own happy ending.

Published in Issue #16

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