When Harr y met Sally
Sally’s life had been an emotional roller-coaster since her children had flown the nest. But after a chance encounter, could she finally be ready to go steady?
“May I get those for you?” Sally looked up from her purse. Mysteriously, the florist serving her didn’t appear to have spoken or to have heard anyone else speak. She was absorbed in wrapping a luxurious array of lilies in pink tissue paper. They were a gift for one of Sally’s ladies, who was turning 93 today.
So, if it wasn’t the florist who’d spoken… Sally turned to one side, where she could now sense the presence of another. He was near enough for her to notice, right away, that his blue eyes were twinkling in a roguish way. He was sportily dressed, tall(ish), around 60, with a shock of silvery hair, a large nose and a smile that suggested he was used to winning friends and influencing people. He exuded a little frisson of danger.
Back in the day she’d had something of a soft spot for the dangerous types. Her husband, Charlie, had definitely been dangerous when they were young and, amazingly, it had come back after the children left.
What a shock that had been. She’d hardly known what to do with it at first, all that saucy flirting and the compliments. It was like someone dashing and romantic had taken up residence in his balding, middle-aged self and turned him back into the bloke he used to be. No trading her in for a younger model the way plenty of her friends’ husbands had after the nest emptied. No funny handshake clubs or endless rounds of golf to get away from her.
Charlie, weirdly and wonderfully, had come back to life, like he was some sort of born-again prince rescuing a tired-out Sleeping Beauty. Funny how they had previously seemed to lose sight of one another over the years.
The weekend after dropping the youngest at uni, he’d whisked Sally off to a fancy boutique hotel where he’d gone down on one knee and proposed. Proposed. Of all the daft things when they’d been married the best part of 25 years. It was lovely though and they’d had a smashing weekend with champagne and long walks – and a little dance in their room after dinner.
The next weekend they’d gone up in a hot-air balloon.
How magical that had been, floating all over the countryside at dawn. Soon after they’d flown to Venice and a couple of months later she’d organised a trip to London to see one of his favourite bands playing in Hyde Park. They did almost everything together. As Charlie would often say, they were growing old disgracefully, unashamed of still being in love. Sure they had friends, they even had odd nights out, her with the girls, him with the lads, but the best times were almost always when they were together. At home, down the pub, in the garden, on holiday, at a spa. He knew how to make things fun and she knew how to laugh. And love and feel blessed.
He’d been gone almost five years now, but the grief, the loneliness, the being without him, was still with her. As was the shock of waking up one morning to find him on the floor next to the bed, not breathing – 55 and it was all over.
She’d been lucky. Everyone said that. What she’d had with Charlie only came once in a lifetime – for some it didn’t come at all.
She wished there was a way to join him without putting others, especially the children, through the terrible business of picking up the pieces.
She’d hardly known what to do with all that saucy flirting
She didn’t talk about him very much – she could tell it made people feel awkward. She just got on with her job, changing old folks’ diapers, feeding them and brushing their hair.
A couple of divorced friends took her on nights out now and again, but they were always looking for “a bit of action” and Sally found it embarrassing. A woman her age out on the razz. It had made her laugh – and sob – to think of what Charlie would say about it.
“Thank you,” the man next to her in the flower shop said.
He was talking to the florist – apparently he’d paid for the lilies.
“Oh no!” she protested. “I can’t let you. They’re not for me.”
“They are now,” he responded with a humorous tilt of an eyebrow.
She looked at them and then at him. “I don’t understand,” she said, thinking of how it was going to make the girls at work giggle when she told them. A complete stranger buying her flowers. Quite a handsome one too.
“My name’s Harry.” He held out a hand to shake.
She took it, because how could she not? “I’m… Sally,” she replied and felt a smile warming her eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you Sally. There’s a coffee shop next door, so shall we?”
And crooking an arm for her to link, he escorted her out of the florists.
It had been a long time, she was thinking, since she’d had to fake it, but she had a feeling she might not have to worry too much about that now.