I always try and post a love story for Valentine’s Day, which is always tricky because I don’t tend to write romance. But last night, I happened upon this story on my Kindle. I wrote it for NYC Midnight, but felt it didn’t quite fit the prompt so wrote something else. I don’t think anyone but me has ever read it. It’ll be rough around the edges, but then, aren’t we all? Happy Valentine’s Day!
Why are we turning?
Lurching from his seat, Neal swung himself around the pole, his thumb finding the button to ring the bell. Thundering down the central aisle of the bus, he yelled, ‘You’ve gone the wrong way!’
The driver didn’t take his eyes from the road, he just jerked a thumb towards a dog-eared piece of paper pinned to the Perspex screen surrounding him. Neal read as far as, ‘Route Change on the Number 5’ and groaned.
‘I need to get to the Royal Holdney,’ he checked his watch, ‘in ten minutes.’ Giving his best pleading look to the driver’s profile, he added, ‘I’ve got a date.’
The brakes on the bus squealed as it came to a halt, and the doors hissed open to admit the cool night air. The driver pointed across the street to a high stone wall.
‘It’s about two miles that way.’
‘Thanks,’ Neal muttered, shuffling, slump-shouldered off the bus. ‘Thanks a lot.’
The bus drove away, leaving Neal to stare at the solidly yellow-gold barrier that separated him from his goal: Felicity.
God, but she was beautiful. His mind wandered back to that afternoon, the college refectory, and her, illuminated in the autumn sunlight.
‘Daddy’s having a thing at the golf course tonight. The Royal Holdney, do you know it?’
‘Yes,’ Neal said, with a confidence that hid the fact he’d only seen the name over the wrought iron gates as he’d passed on the bus.
‘Will you come? It’ll be dreadfully boring if you don’t. Langley Suite, at 8.’
Felicity Windham-Jones, ice-cream heiress and unobtainable goddess. This was his one chance. He wasn’t going to let a wall come between him and happiness.
Glancing left, then right, he barrelled his way across the road, the pavement and the verge banking the wall. Leaping with all he had, Neal grabbed for the top…and came up six inches short. Again, he tried, again he failed; 9 inches this time.
Pressing his head against the lichen-covered brick, Neal breathed in the dampness. Think. Find a way.
Stepping back, he looked both ways, then headed left towards a large oak tree. One thick branch projected over the wall. Grasping at knot holes, Neal worked his way up the trunk and sat in the v between two branches staring. In the distance, the bright lights of the clubhouse burned through the night. Felicity.
Neal crawled towards the wall, his breath misting the air before him. As the branch narrowed, so he clung tighter. Seeking another handhold, his palm slipped on slick wood. Momentum took him, leaving him hanging from one hand a foot shy of the wall. Grunting his exertion, Neal shuffled forward, hand over hand until his feet touched solid stone.
Muttering curses, he lowered himself to sitting, then jump-slid to the ground in a pile of wet leaves. Brushing himself down, Neal sucked in a breath and kept his eyes on the lights ahead. You can do this.
At a jog, he began to move on a direct line towards the clubhouse, towards his goal. Scrub soon gave way to long grass that wrapped itself around his feet sending him tripping forwards. Don’t fall. Grass stains.
A stand of saplings loomed out of a patch of mist and Neal slalomed between them, then froze at the motorised whirr of a golf cart. Security! Ducking down, Neal pressed himself against the slender trunk.
At precisely the wrong moment, his phone rang. The cart pulled to a stop.
Patting his pockets, Neal found the phone on the third attempt. With another trill imminent, Neal made a choice. Summoning up his strength, he lobbed the device down the fairway. It beeped, then hit the ground with an audible thud. Closing his eyes in supplication, Neal gave thanks as the cart began to whir away, in the direction of the still bleating phone.
Glancing at the departing cart, Neal made a break for the next line of trees. The long grass soon gave way to a close-clipped green; Neal saw the flag in the hole just in time and swerved right. Grinning in triumph, he ran over a rise, high on adrenalin.
His foot came down, and found air where the ground should be. Tumbling base over apex, he landed, winded, in a sand-filled bunker. Hearing a fearsome yowl, he turned to see an angry cat, back arched and tail fluffed. Cat. Sandpit. Sh…
Jumping to his feet, Neal pulled off his jacket. Nose wrinkling at the stink of the brown smears, he tossed it to the ground and ran on.
Bursting through another thicket, the clubhouse loomed magnificently before him. Running his hands into his hair, Neal slowed to a casual swagger as he neared the glass doors. On the other side was a stiff-backed waiter in a bow tie, blocking the way. ‘Your jacket, Sir? Club policy.’
‘Of course! I’ll get it,’ Neal said as he backed out, mind racing. Jogging left, he circled the building until he found a fire door, propped open by a girl in a maid’s outfit smoking outside.
‘Forgot my jacket!’ he said as he rushed past, heart thumping. Moving rapidly through the corridors, Neal halted as he saw the snooty waiter pushing through the door ahead. Ducking into the nearest room, Neal found himself confronted with a coat rack. He grabbed a jacket, threw it on, checked his hair in a mirror, and ambled back out just in time to nod condescendingly to the staffer.
A sign saying ‘Langley Suite’ directed Neal to his location. Polite chatter washed over him as he entered, the air scented with strawberry and chocolate. Then there, across the room: Felicity. Their eyes met. She picked a cherry from the top of her sundae, popping it seductively between her lips.
Neal’s smile widened; the cat that got the cream.
Behind him, a voice said, ‘I say, that chaps wearing my jacket!’