Update 2019: This short story has been unpublished some years ago, but it does form the basis of my novella, Beautiful Stranger, so I’m leaving this taster up, because in some form or other, it’s still relevant.
Why not get a little taste of it from the short except below:
“Excuse me, where’s your bathroom?” His call is coming from the back door.
“Oh please come in, it’s just over there…” I point at the door leading off the hallway.
Still the contrast between us is startling to me, he looks like everything I am not in his formals which probably cost more than my car is worth. At the same time I – at 25 – still dress like I did as a teenager, faded jeans and inappropriately tight t-shirts. The only “fancy” clothes I own are worn exclusively to job interviews and then too they’re Primark or at a stretch Next. You could mistake me for a simple idealist, not moved by worldly possessions, when in fact I am just a bit stingy and lazy.
But strangely, he looks at home, walking over the terracotta tiles and towards the door I’ve just shown him. Taking in the decor, glancing at the eclectic mix of paintings and photographs on my walls on his way. Like he is meant to be here, in my house. I try and shake off that thought. He’s just some stranger and I’m an idiot for doing this.
The ping of the oven timer brings me back to reality and I pile all the food, plates and cutlery high onto a tray, and head back out. After I’ve arranged everything on the wooden table and make another trip for the cushions, a water jug and the aforementioned cheap wine, he comes back out as well.
“Oh you didn’t need to…” He says, smiling at me. Looking at him now, more relaxed and at ease, I feel like I’m getting a hint of his usual demeanor. Charismatic is probably the best word for it. Like he should be a politician, but still strangely genuine and trustworthy.
“I sort of did, I’m starving,” I respond, “and Dominos doesn’t deliver here.”
He lets out a laugh while sitting down on the bench beside me. Thankfully it’s large and sturdy, quite over spec for my usual needs as a single woman.
“I wasn’t sure what you’d like,” I point at the food, wine and water, “unless you want coffee or tea, I can do that too.”
“Yeah, I don’t tend to drink much, is it that obvious?” He smiles again. My heart is pounding in my chest; I can’t get over how handsome he is, by body language perhaps even more so than simply looks.
“Well, whatever you need, just ask.” My eyes are drawn towards his, in this light they seem more turquoise than blue. He holds my gaze just a little longer than strictly necessary before picking up the wine and corkscrew.
“I suppose one glass won’t hurt. I promise I don’t feel ill anymore.” He doesn’t look it either, must be the fresh air.
“Don’t be so sure, you haven’t tried it yet. It’s probably nowhere near the quality you’re used to.” I say, still mesmerised by his eyes.
He grins at me. “Everything is only as good as the company it’s enjoyed in.”
I feel the corners of my mouth curl up practically by themselves, this is a game I know how to play.
“Well, and what do you know about current company other than that I was overly keen to get my hands on your car keys?”
“Firstly, you took a huge risk trying to help out a complete stranger,” winking at me, he adds, “car keys or no car keys.”
I take the glass of wine he has poured for me.
“Furthermore, I don’t recall the last time anyone has made an effort putting together a meal for me…” His gaze wanders out over the field again.
“Fine, if you say so,” I say, “but for all you know I could be a psychopath, only pretending to be friendly.”
He looks back at me again, the amused glint in his eyes reappearing. “So could I.”
“Cheers,” I say, raising my glass towards him, “to us, pretending to be friendly.”
We both take a sip, stealing little looks at each other in turn.