Now Or Never by Sharon Boothroyd

I took a moment, as I perched on a town centre bench by the fountain and scanned the crowd.

Was Glen Mr Handsome Suited and Booted?

Or was he the tall, grey- bearded fella, wearing odd socks? Or was my lunchtime date the bespectacled bow- tied chap immersed in his mobile?

Although I could have easily asked to see a photo of Glen, I'd decided against it, as it'd spoil the surprise. Glen hadn't requested a photo of me either - presumably for the same reason... when odd socks man approached me, my heart sank.

“Is it Jackie?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Hi. I'm Glen.”

We shook hands, but there were no sparks. Yet his deep brown eyes were warm, and his expression was kind. He was attractive in a crumpled Trevor Eve sort of way.

It was my daughter Lou's suggestion to meet Glen for lunch.

Her best friend's single dad would be 'ideal' for me, apparently. The question was, would I be ideal for him?

“Just because we're widowed and around the same age, it doesn't mean you can neatly match us up,” I pointed out.

She looked pensive. “Fair enough. I could sign you up to a dating app instead...”

“I'll meet Glen,” I put in hastily. Call me old- fashioned, but all this clever tech felt very 'in your face.'

Tash, Lou's friend, said her slightly eccentric, laid- back dad was a very good listener. The 'slightly eccentric' bit worried me.

“I thought we could go to Green's for lunch.” Glen's soft voice jolted me back to the present.

Green's was a cosy vegetarian cafe. It got my vote.

I smiled. “That'd be lovely.”

To my surprise, we selected the same meal and uncovered shared interests – baking, hiking and gardening.

Time passed quickly and when we bid farewell, my hopes were set high.

***

“Your carpet needs hoovering properly,” I said.

“No, it doesn't.”

Three months on, and the promising goodwill between Glen and I had somehow faded.

I didn't quite know why. Yes, okay - I admit that when I'd seen the state of his house, my OCD tendencies had gone into overdrive - but, apart from that... The current argument regarded his living room carpet. In my opinion, it required a deep vacuum with the special nozzle.

Thankfully, students Tash and Lou were out, so they were unable to take sides.

He suddenly grabbed my hand. “Let's go to the pictures.”

I panicked. It was six pm. “ Now? The girls will expect to find us here, and a hot meal ready.”

“Stop fussing, Jackie. They're over eighteen and they've both got keys. There's plenty in the fridge, or they can order a pizza. We'll leave them a note.”

He reached for his shoes. It still irked me that he wore odd socks.

“Alright.” It was easier to give in than stand my ground. It niggled me, though.

How would we manage to move onto the next stage?

***

We didn't. In fact, we decided to take a break. Glen said he couldn't cope with my OCD streak.

“Well, as far as I'm concerned, 'laid back' are two words to describe laziness,” I'd muttered.

The girls were disappointed. I was too, yet it wasn't the end of the world. I knew what the end of the word felt like. It was when my husband David had died.

In that early raw phase, getting through each day was a battle.

Tash and Lou supported each other well, because Tash's mum had sadly passed away five years earlier.

They stayed over at each other's homes, swapped uni gossip, watched endless episodes of Love Island and munched slices of home- made cake, baked by Glen and I.

“It's a pity about you and Glen. Tash and I were hoping to post photos of your wedding on social media,” Lou said.

“Sorry to disappoint you.” I scooped up unwashed mugs from the coffee table. Lou followed me to the kitchen.

“Stop washing- up for a minute, mum. Just think about what you've thrown away -”

“Glen wanted a temporary separation,” I breezed. “And the washing up won't do itself.”

When Lou studied me, I avoided her gaze.

“You need to chill out, mum,” she stated gently.

But I wouldn't allow myself to 'chill out.' Keeping busy helped heal my heart. I was lucky - lots of things ate up my time.

My job as an admin assistant, my hobbies – gardening, walking with the local rambling group, and of course, baking.

The trouble was, this tactic only worked up to a certain point...

Then Lou (via Tash) dropped a bombshell. “Glen's moving away - can Tash lodge in our spare room?”

“I'll think about it.” It wasn't the only thing I thought about.

***

Glen answered the door sporting a candy pink plastic pinny.

“Hi.” I could hardly get the word out, my mouth was so dry.

He smiled. “Hello Jackie. Come in. I've got a chocolate cake in the oven.”

“When are you moving? As you know, Tash wants to lodge with us and -”

He leaned against the worktop. “I'm not moving.”

I jolted. Oh.

“I made it up.” He busied himself filling the kettle.

“Why?”

He untied his pinny, ambled over and gathered me in his arms.

“Why do you think? To get you round here.”

We kissed for a long time. My heart soared and soared. Then our moment of bliss was ruined when the door flew open.

“Cool!” Tash quipped. “I'll text Lou, tell her the good news.”

Glen cut in. “Yes, it's official. Jackie and I are back together. But can we leave social media out of it, please?”

***

“I didn't want my life to change,” Glen began.

We were snuggled up on his sofa.

“It sounds strange, but I felt guilty moving on,” he said.

“I'd never ask you to forget Kath.”

“And I'd never ask you to forget David.” We held hands tight.

“I was a control freak. David had died, and that something I couldn't control. Cleaning was a safe way to channel the grief. I've seen a bereavement counsellor,” I explained.

He nodded. “Ah.”

Tash was right. He was a good listener.

“Look, If we both resolve to make an effort and compromise -”

“I'll try to stop fretting over the girls,” I resolved.

“I'll try to be tidier. I hope I've got past the stage of making up daft stories to get your attention,” he said, as he sipped his tea. “Because I love you.”

“I love you too, Glen,” I whispered.

I glowed. We had a future together.

“There's one thing left that's bothering me.”

“What's that?”

I took a deep breath. It was now or never.

“Why do you wear odd socks?”

“Well, I suppose I like to be different. Can you put up with odd socks, Jackie?”

Could I?

I smiled. Yes. Because just like Glen and I, each sock is different yet somehow, they manage to make a perfect pair.


Published in Issue #16

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