Seize The Day
IT’S a beautiful dress,” he said. The man with the stunning blue eyes was holding up Jen’s party dress and eyeing it appraisingly.
It was a classic: black, with little pearly beads sewn into the lacy white top; demure, but with a low cut at the back that Jen had always felt a little bit daring.
The truth was, she wasn’t a daring sort of person. She’d bought it in a hurry to go to a work event one year, and by the time she’d realised her mistake, she’d had to make do and cover it up with a cardigan.
Had the guy noticed it and that was why he was commenting? She was finding it hard to think of a single thing to say in response, like a dumbstruck teenager.
This is what happens when you’ve managed to get to thirty without having a proper boyfriend in your life, she thought.
“I don’t wear it often,” she said at last.
“You should.” He was still holding her gaze intently in a way that suggested he might be interested in more than just the dress.
No, Jen decided, he couldn’t be flirting with her. Not only was he handsome, he had a soulful manner about him that set her heart racing.
A rare combination, a little voice in her head told her. And it would be even rarer, the voice continued, to find someone like him not already taken.
“I suppose that it’s not the sort of dress you could wear every day, though, is it?” He was smiling shyly at her.
Perhaps he was just being polite. He was new here, after all. He seemed to have taken over from old Mr Peebles who normally ran the drycleaners.
“The truth is,” Jen went on, gathering courage, “I don’t have much occasion to dress up.”
I don’t have much occasion to do anything exciting, she reminded herself.
Still, her upcoming holiday to the Greek islands with Lou should be fun. Lou always banked on bagging last-minute bargain deals, so Jen didn’t have any details yet.
The key thing was, it would be an opportunity to let her hair down – hence the dress.
“Don’t you?” He was filling in her ticket. A little pink slip that said Friday on it, with an item number.
Friday. Her heart leapt. Would he still be here? She desperately hoped so. She wanted to see him again.
“You should find reasons to dress up.” His sudden grin as he looked up was disarming. “Seize the day and all that. Make your own occasions to wear special dresses!”
He tore off the slip and handed it to her.
“I’d have a go at your boyfriend if I were you. He should take you to nice places. A girl like you . . .” He stopped, perhaps realising he might be taking it too far.
Just as well, really, because Jen was blushing again.
“I’m single, I’m afraid, so I’ve no-one else to blame if I don’t get out enough.”
Goodness. Did she really just say that out loud?
“A waste,” he noted. “What name shall I put on the ticket?”
“Jen. I mean, Pearson.” “Jen Pearson,” he repeated.
“I’m Sam,” he volunteered, catching her out again with those warm blue eyes.
His hand, outstretched over the counter for a moment, was firm and friendly and his touch against her fingers made her skin tingle for long after their brief contact.
She had to keep this going, like they did on the TV. She had to think of something else to say. “Are you new here?” “My uncle’s away so I’m minding the shop for him for a few days.” He gestured towards the bright shop front, with rows of neatly pressed suits and trousers hanging in cellophane wrappings against one wall. “I like it here. I’ll be sorry to leave after he gets back.”
“Will you?” Jen swallowed.
She racked her brains. There had to be some other things she could bring in for dry-cleaning in the meantime. Her bedroom curtains could do with a
Jen had been content to let her life drift along. But now she had to take action!
spruce-up, for starters. Not that she meant to splash out loads of money on dry-cleaning just because the new guy standing behind the counter was so gorgeous.
Jen took her time putting her ticket away, desperate to come up with something else to say.
They never had so much trouble in the dating shows she watched. Everyone else seemed to have perfected the art of flowing conversation. Even Sam had managed to ascertain that she wasn’t with anyone.
“Do you need to travel far, then?” she continued. “I mean, to get to the shop?”
“I’m crashing at my brother’s at the moment.” He smiled at her. “I’ve got my motorbike out back. Doesn’t take long.”
Jen could just see him on a motorbike in a black leather jacket. Then, of course, the voice in her head reminded her, the obligatory girlfriend riding pillion.
Jen had often wondered what it must feel like to ride pillion on a motorbike. To feel the wind in her hair, streaming out behind her as she was transported somewhere up a lush mountainside on a sunny afternoon.
“That’ll be eight pounds fifty.” His voice broke through her reverie. “I’m guessing you also work around here?”
He was casually gathering up bits of paper off the counter as he spoke, putting them all in a neat pile on one end. Could he possibly be feeling as nervous as her?
“I do.” She delved back into her purse for some money. “At the local museum.”
“Clever!” His gorgeous eyes widened with interest and she went on hurriedly.
“I only help out with displaying exhibits, moving stuff around, labelling – whatever they need me to do. I’m not an academic or anything, but I’ve always loved learning about the past. Mum always said that’s why I’m so oldfashioned.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” He had his head down now, quietly smiling.
“That I’m old-fashioned?” “In a good way,” he assured her. ‘You’re more traditional, right?”
He leaned towards her. “I used to be mortally shy myself once,” he confided. “I was overweight.”
“I’d never have guessed, looking at you now.”
“I never had much confidence with girls till I finally realised my life was never going to change unless I took action and made things happen.
“After I joined a gym, I shed four stones and I’ve never looked back.” He smiled at her shyly. “It only takes one little act of courage to start to turn your life around.”
She was about to answer him when the bell on the shop door went behind her and Gail Simmonds from the designer clothes shop bustled in.
She looked to be in a hurry and Sam straightened up.
“Well, I hope to see you again soon.” Jen kept her voice bright, not betraying her disappointment.
“I’ll have it ready for you on Friday.” Sam nodded.
Was she mistaking the look of anticipation she thought she could see in his eyes? Probably.
As she left the shop, Jen drew in a deep breath. She was thirty years old and something, somewhere, had sapped every last bit of confidence she ever had. But why?
Why did she keep telling herself that she wasn’t glamorous enough for a bloke like Sam to be interested in her?
Hopefully this last-minute holiday with Lou was going to give her the confidence boost she needed. It was long overdue.
“Seize the day,” Sam had said, as if he’d sensed that she never did.
Well, she was taking a risk now, wasn’t she? Last-minute bookings – Dad would turn in his grave. Together with Mum, they’d always been an organised little trio.
Their two-week stay at Mrs Hildebrand’s B&B in Bournemouth had been booked from year to year.
“Just to make sure we get our slot,” Dad used to say.
Not that Mrs Hildebrand had ever been fully booked up, but you never knew.
And now here was a message from Lou about the holiday, just pinging in on Jen’s phone. Organised and efficient Lou – a lot like Jen’s dad, now that Jen thought about it – had found and booked the perfect deal.
“A week in Kos,” she’d enthused when Jen finally got through to her during her lunch break. “A quiet hotel. No nasty bars or discos nearby. Nothing to disturb us.”
“A quiet hotel,” Jen found herself echoing.
No bars or discos meant there would be no chance to wear the dress that Sam had called lovely. No opportunity to take any risks or meet anyone breathtakingly gorgeous or have any fun.
Oh, why had she taken that dress to the drycleaners that morning? Up till then she hadn’t even realised that what she was looking for was fun. “When do we leave?” “Friday morning,” Lou told her triumphantly. “I knew you were up for it so it’s all booked on a no-feesreturned basis. Pack some sturdy walking shoes,” she ordered.
“I’ve got to pick up my dress on Friday!” Jen declared.
If she didn’t, she might never see Sam again.
“A dress?” Lou sounded unimpressed. “A couple of pairs of shorts and T-shirts and a swimsuit’ll do. It’s cabin baggage only.”
Jen swallowed. Lou had just pulled off the impossible. Two hundred and fifty pounds for a last minute all-inclusive sevenday holiday to the Greek Islands.
It was a bargain – a once-in-a-lifetime offer. And Jen had already agreed to pay for it. How could she possibly pass on that?
The November rain poured down, cold and grey.
As the aeroplane’s engines revved for take-off, most of the occupants were relaxed, anticipating the blue skies of the Aegean that waited them.
Not the girl who sat fretting at the window seat at the back, though. She had her mind on other things, not least the worry that she wasn’t doing the right thing, going ahead with this holiday.
After all, she had planned it a certain way and things were turning out differently.
Lou didn’t like changes. She didn’t like it when her well-organised itineraries were turned upside-down by other people’s changes of heart.
The squeaky-clean windows at the front of Mr Peebles’s dry-cleaning shop were being lit up by a young man whose eyes were as blue as the Aegean, and whose heart was as warm as the sun on a sandy golden beach.
His first customer of the day shakily returned his smile as he held the door open for her, and all the apprehension that Jen had been wrestling with during the night ebbed away.
Her mum was going to love her time on the Greek islands with Lou. There was more to holidaying than Mrs Hildebrand’s, after all.
As for Jen, this might only be a grey and drizzly November day in a tiny provincial dry-cleaners, but Jen only had to catch a glimpse of the light in Sam’s eyes to know that they both intended to seize it. n
“It takes only one act of courage to turn your life around”