Wishes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Me too, Alex?
Please?
The issue on everyone's lips.
from the forthcoming online anthology: 'Is It Today?'
Photo by ali pazani on Unsplash

Submitted: March 08, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 08, 2019

A A A

A A A


Is It Today?

Wishes

Have you ever had a premonition? A future intuition? A forewarning? Telling you something dreadful is going to happen? Alex Grace did. When he was 14. He dreamed that his dad died. The next morning, his mum, Josie, fell off her dressing table stool, reaching for a bath towel in the airing cupboard, and sprained her ankle. At exactly the same time his dad died of a coronary, river fishing. Josie’s world fell apart. The Police called round and asked what he looked like: ‘Did he have a dark complexion? Was he well-built? Was he a smoker?’ Hours passed before the corpse could be formally identified. Josie suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted to commit suicide in bed with a carpet knife. Alex saved her life that night. After that his mother spent most of her life incarcerated in a mental health unit in the beautiful Sussex Weald being treated for manic depression with electro convulsive therapy and lithium.

Alex juggled school life with visiting his mum, caring for her (on the rare occasions that she was discharged) and performing household chores. He dreaded the times when she came home. Her moods swung from euphoric highs to catatonic lows in minutes, making it tough for him to decide if she should be re-admitted to hospital. He developed his own robust self defence mechanism to stop himself from going berserk with the emotional burden of being a teenage carer. He became cold, aloof, detaching himself from the outside world. 

Josie Grace was difficult to control when she was high. Her personality changed, her voice morphed into a disturbing mid-western American drawl. She would run down the street in her nightgown proclaiming to be at one with God. When she was low, she retracted into the spiral snail’s shell of catatonia, neglecting herself. Her son begged her to go into hospital but she’d just mumble, ‘I’ll be fine.’ Invariably, Alex caved in, night after sleepless night, because deep in his heart he loved her and couldn’t bear to be cruel to be kind. Josie grew morbidly obese - a result of her lithium medication - and died of a massive heart attack on the day of her son’s 18th birthday. After his mum’s cremation, on a drab, mizzled, April morning, he left their council flat to live with his aging nanna in the West Sussex countryside.

Alex’s only escape was his evening job at the local bistro, clearing tables. Within a week of starting work, he was serving at table. His mind was in a constant turmoil. He never found the peace and solitude required for study. He failed his A levels, missing out on going to uni. Instead he chose college and a diploma in hospitality services. By the time he enrolled, he had grown into a competent all-round caterer. But he had yet to fall in love.

*****

The blind date was Suzie’s idea. Alex had often seen Jacqui sunbathing by the refectory wall where the beauty therapists hung out, but they had never spoken. Suzie’s choice made perfect sense. Both students were attractive and unattached. Alex was lonely, a hermit in need of a friend. He worried that she might not turn up for the date. Feared she would break his heart if she did.

She waited impatiently for him in her red and black Mini Cooper S on a double yellow line. The train pulled into the station 20 minutes late. Alex ran up to the car, threw his dirty rucksack on the back seat, and climbed in. She didn’t say a word, just tapped her hard-pink nails on the soft leather steering wheel.

Jacqui jumped in before he could speak. ‘I forgot my swimsuit. How stupid is that?’

A gold envelope lay open on the dashboard next to a silver-embossed invitation card:

Dear Jacqui,

Blind Date:

You’re going for a swim at Wittering Beach! Afterwards you’ll enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner for two at The Excelsior in Worthing! Don’t forget your wish… or your swimsuit!

Enjoy!

Suzie xx

‘You forgot?’

‘It’s not funny. I left it at home.’ She spoke posh Kent not native Sussex at all. Jacqui looked gorgeous in a short-sleeved navy jumper dappled with sunken anchors and tight white Bermuda shorts. Alex made an instant impression on her with his unbuttoned navy polo shirt, bum-hugging lemur jeans and trendy amber shades. 

‘Where?’

She took a deep breath. ‘Benenden, near Dingleden, Rolvenden and Tenterden.’

Jacqui Crittenden from Benenden. How quaint! Rather lovely actually, like her, he felt. He sensed that she hid a soft centre under her hard-outer shell. Alex spied a traffic warden noting her car registration. He stroked Jacqui’s tanned forearm. She felt soft and warm. She didn’t flinch. He peeked at her bronzed thighs.

She instantly took offence. ‘Would you stop staring at my legs, Alex?’

‘I think we should go, don’t you?’ he ventured cautiously,’ Before you get a ticket?’

‘Go where, exactly?’

The thoughts fell out of his mouth. ‘To buy you a sexy bikini. I’ll pay.’

Alex kicked himself for saying it. Jacqui was shocked to the core. What kind of girl did he take her for?

‘Thank you,’ she sniped, ‘But I don’t need your charity and I hate bikinis. Anyway, there isn’t time. I have a lecture at two.’

She slammed the gear into first and revved the engine. They crawled out of the crowded car park in a cloud of exhaust and entered South Street where the lunchtime traffic, bolstered by sightseers, snaked into the city centre as far as the mediaeval market cross.

‘I’m sorry I was rude to you just then,’ Alex stammered.

‘I should think so!’

Jacqui moved up a gear, turning on Radio 2 just as the eighties chart hit ended with the immortal words: ‘Who’s Going to Drive You Home Tonight?’ He smirked childishly. She chewed her nails. He stared at her inanely. She read his thoughts.

‘Don’t even think about it, I barely know you.’

Alex glanced at his watch: 11:45. The early birds were piling into cafés for lunch. Jacqui entered West St, wary of the cathedral’s grimacing gargoyles, found a roundabout and took the first exit. The seaside was seven miles away. She began to wish she had never met him.

Once they had left the city centre, the journey passed quickly, a hazy blur of fading verges, prickly hedgerows, verdant fields and disused gravel pits. Alex studied Jacqui’s face as she concentrated on the road ahead. Her teal eyes were spaced wide apart. She had a pronounced crease over her upper lip, the remnant of a hair lip, a swishy blonde pony, and she was boss-eyed. He didn’t mind. Jacqui was adorable.

Why was she dating a clown like him? he wondered. He pushed a stiff hand through his hair, checked his watch and tried to strike up a conversation, asking how long she had owned the Mini. Jacqui told him it was brand new, a 21st birthday present from Daddy.

‘Daddy’s Senior Partner at a City law firm,’ she said proudly.

‘Oh, right!’ Alex’s dad, Len, used to be a self-employed bricklayer. ‘And Mummy?’

‘Mummy breeds horses on our stud.’

His eyes rounded. ‘Your stud?’

Jacqui glanced at him and neighed.

‘Any hobbies?’

‘A few…’

‘Go on.’

‘Tennis, sailing, skiing, swimming, gym, yoga, scuba-diving. Oh, and I’m a party animal.’

‘Really?’

‘Mm!’

‘I used to go fishing with my dad when he was alive,’ Alex reflected sadly. ‘Holidays?’

‘Oh, the usual stuff, you know: sunny beaches, snowy mountains, rainy forests. You?’

‘I’ve never been on holiday.’

Jacqui was horrified, ‘What, never?’

Alex stared sullenly at his knees. ‘No, we couldn’t afford to go away.’

They followed the brown tourist signs, continuing the rest of the journey in silence. Jacqui was wealthy. Alex existed on the poverty line. His heart sank. They had nothing in common. He fully expected her to call it a day after the beach trip. Forget the romantic candlelit dinner. Should he message Suzie, saying he wouldn’t be going tonight? Or should he make the wish? He decided to make the wish. Jacqui instantly folded her hand over his fist.

‘I heard about what happened to your Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Alex,’ she said quietly.

She let go of his hand and slowed down, listening intently as he told his life story, her eyes misting with tears. They passed a mini-market then drove along a leafy road, past a scattering of cottages, until they reached the beach. Jacqui paid the nice man in the timber hut £6.50 and parked behind a tamarisk hedge. Alex excavated his rucksack, found a warm plastic bottle of water, and gave it to Jacqui.

‘Thank you,’ she said, quenching her thirst, gently burping, ‘I think I need to pay a visit.’

He climbed out of the Mini, removed his shoes and socks, threw his crumpled jacket over his shoulder and smiled, ‘Me, too!’

Jacqui arched her thin eyebrows despairingly as he rolled his jeans up to his knees. All that was missing was the knotted handkerchief.

‘See you on the beach, then!’ he cried brimming with excitement.

‘Maybe…’

She watched him stroll to the little boy’s room. Alex was tall, rugged, muscly, with short brown wavy hair, a dimpled mouth, and a shadow over his lip. Sensational. Jacqui was in no doubt that he had a crush on her. She remembered how he made her feel when he stroked her arm: safe and warm. Such a shame that he treated her disrespectfully. Why did he speak to her like that? Why did he have to spoil everything? On the other hand, she felt sorry for him. By his own admission, he’d had a hard life. She stooped, took off her gold ballerina pumps and made her wish. Jacqui locked the car, walked past the beach café and ladies toilet. Then, with a delightful spring in her step, she padded barefoot through the marram dunes to the beach…

Suzie was waiting for her, with her gaily-coloured beach bag and two beach towels, plainly dressed in a floppy red sweater, faded skinny jeans and shiny silver belt. She hadn’t put on any make-up. Her beautiful teak hair was a straggly mess. And her eyes were bleary, blotched with tiredness. She dropped the bag and towels on the sand and ran barefoot, to be with Jacqui. The two of them kissed and embraced.

‘Have you missed me, Jacq?’

‘Have I!’

Suzie took off her sweater, revealing a poppy red bikini top. ‘What kept you?’

Jacqui rolled her eyes. ‘Would you believe it? His train was late!’

They picked up the beach bag, then strolled hand-in-hand through the surf, enjoying the hot sun on their faces, until they found a lonely spot. Suzie knelt and spread the towels on the sand. Jacqui unzipped her Bermuda shorts and smiled to herself. Suzie was naturally very beautiful.

‘I hope you packed my bikini!’

Her girlfriend glanced up, laughed. ‘As if I’d forget! Honestly! What do you take me for?’

Jacqui took Suzie in her arms and held her tight, stroked her hair, smothered her with kisses.

‘For my true love, darling,’ she whispered, ‘For my true love.’


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