Seize The Day

The People's Friend - - 8 - by Giselle Green

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”

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