Will wiped down the fork for the fourth time, a mix of nerves and a desire for everything to be perfect, led to an almost OCD laying of the table. He stopped short of using a measuring tape to ensure everything was in exactly the correct position but had checked the table a total of 36 times already.
It’s not like it was a first date, they had been out to dinner several times. He had been to hers for dinner and a movie, but this was the first time she would come to his. The first time he was cooking. The first time she would see his home. He wanted it to be perfect.
People had told him he would never find someone, the way he was going. He had always asserted that he did not want to date someone he worked with, it got too complicated, what if it all goes wrong, badly wrong? He didn’t frequent bars and rarely went out to meet new people.
It’s not that he was anti-social, he simply did not have time to date. Between work, family commitments and what he called life, he didn’t have the inclination to find someone special. He didn’t want to find someone special, things had been fine the way they were.
However, that was before Jess had walked into his office. The horror fiction department was in the basement, when they had moved in to the building, Will’s predecessor as the head of Horror fiction, had said there were only two places the department should be. The basement or the attic. As there was no attic in the office block the basement, became home. Will’s office was in a corner. Again, it was his predecessors idea and no amount of arguing was going to get his department moved to a decent floor with windows. It’s not like there wasn’t’ space, with the historical fiction department, they only took up half of floor five.
Jess was the new HR manager and had come to discuss the vacancies he had in his department. He had asked for the meeting in HR, a chance to get out of the basement. She had insisted that she came to him. He heard her before seeing her arrive in his department, saying hello to his team, asking after them, letting them know her door was always open. She was met with a series of bemused looks. Unlike Will, his team were quite happy hiding in the basement.
At first sight, she was not his type. He did not like brunettes, he did not like women who were overweight, he didn’t like women without makeup. She was wearing trainers and her hair looked wild. For an HR manager, she looked, in his opinion, unprofessional. To be fair the women he did like, were basically mythical. He would find it easier to meet a unicorn.
Jess had wound up in Human Resources by accident. After getting a degree in Archaeology, she saw her future up to her elbows in mud, discovering the next wonder of the ancient world. However, jobs for fresh faced archaeology graduates, did not pay well and when her mother got sick, she needed to make some real money to ensure that her younger brother could have a chance in life.
She had been going for an interview in a call centre, when she found herself mediating an argument between two employees in the foyer. She had been so successful in dealing with the situation they hired her immediately. However, had they got around to the interview they would have realised straight away she was not cut out for sales, but the vacancy that had arisen in HR was offered to her, and ten years later she was now an HR manager, for a major publisher.
When she first saw Will, he was everything she had been told about, cold, distant business focussed and quite frankly boring. She had thought meeting him in his office may be easier, but she wasn’t sure that anything, would have worked.
It had not been love at first sight. It had not been love at tenth sight. It had taken the intervention of a power cut, leading to them being stuck in the lift for 6 hours before they had a conversation that did not involve horror stories or personnel issues. She had laughed to herself, it was a cliche. Two people meet, they don’t get on then they get stuck together and they fall in love. At least that’s what would have happened in one of the trashy romance novels, they published on the fourth floor. Will was not a fourth floor kind of guy. He was a basement, shadows and potential serial killer type of guy.
However, that 6 hours had led them to talk. She had learned that he was not a complete bore, in fact he was also sacrificing a lot for his family. She told him about her mother, and how she had given up her dreams to ensure her brother could reach his. He now travelled the world, making money, through playing video games and he made a lot of money playing video games. She had stayed home and still looked after their mother.
After the lift, they had bumped in to each other at a cafe, one Saturday morning a couple of weeks later. She had her mother with her and Will had been impressed with how much she cared for her mother and the sacrifices she had made. She also had not run off once he had told her about his own family. ‘Maybe, just maybe’, he thought.
They had gone on their first date the following weekend and away from the office, they both realised that they were more alike than they both realised. Jess, was a regular at the gym and was trying to get back to her pre-knee injury, fitness levels. She wasn’t a runner but had done a half marathon until one day she tripped over and damaged the cartilage in her left knee. She still could not wear heels, but she was starting to make progress. Will mentioned that he loved to swim, but didn’t have much time, to go for any more.
Will, walked over to the oven, and looked through the door. He had cooked this meal so many times, he had it down to perfection, but tonight it had to be better than perfect. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was his best dish. He could have ordered in or Julie had offered to cook but he wanted to do it. Tonight was more important than almost any previous night of his life, and certainly it was more important than any night in the last few years.
He paced over to the table one more time, maybe the flowers needed some adjusting. No they were fine. ‘Breathe’ he muttered to himself. She was due in half an hour, time to change. He ran up the stairs to the bedroom. His suit was laid out on the bed ready. The cat was laid out on the suit. ‘Yeah, you’re right, too formal’ he muttered to the cat, who did what cats do and ignored him.
He glanced at the bed. It had been changed earlier that day by Julie. He did not know where he would be without Julie, she kept the house tidy. She kept the house clean. She cooked and stayed late, if he was late. She was the reason he ever had anything to wear. Housework, had never been his strong suit. He was messy by nature, he said it was because he was creative. Really, it was because he felt life was too short to spend time tidying. There was a time when, he was so lost and he felt nothing mattered. The house had become a metaphor for him, a mess.
He grabbed a polo shirt from the cupboard and put on some black jeans. Quickly running a comb through his hair and spraying on a bottle of whatever aftershave, he had received for Christmas. He took one look in the mirror and headed back down the stairs to the kitchen. He opened a bottle of red wine, and decanted some juice in to a jug for the table.
It was raining out, and he paused to listen to the sound of the rain on the glass of the conservatory. It had been raining the night a few years back when everything had changed too. It felt like it had been raining every day since, until the day he got stuck in a lift.
Since then, every day had felt like summer. He had realised after Jess had spoken of what she had done for her family, that she was everything he wanted, everything he needed. He had not realised how lonely life had become, until they were freed from that lift and she went her way and he went his.
He had felt like a bit of a stalker when he went to that cafe she had mentioned, and barged his way in to her breakfast with her mother. Working in the horror department, had been a reflection of his life over the last few years. The basement was home. Since, Jess he had spent quite a bit of time reading through the fourth floor submissions. He had been a romantic once, and may be that was coming back to him.
Dinner was coming along, everything was timed to the second. Jess would arrive, he would offer her a drink. He would offer to show her round. She would meet the cat and the dogs, she would meet his reasons for living. ‘God, I hope she is not in white’ he thought, as he glanced at the picture of the black cat that hung on the wall by the table.
He glanced at his watch five minutes. He glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, still five minutes.
‘What if she’s late?’ He had not factored in lateness, to the meal plan. Should he turn dinner down? Why was he so nervous? Stupid question, this was not any ordinary dinner.
He heard the doorbell, and his heart suddenly started beating twice as fast. He walked to the door, Jess was looking beautiful, and thankfully not in white. There was a flurry of activity as the rest of the family headed down the stairs, one black cat, two German shepherd dogs, one 7 year old child and where was the other? Ah there she was. His daughter Lily, 5 years old came flying down the stairs, dressed in her favourite, Disney princess dress. She ran straight past Will and up to Jess, introducing herself with a hug.
“I would like to introduce you to Josh, my son and Lily my daughter. Kids this is Jess.’
They went in to the front room and Will stood back as Lily took to telling Jess all about her. Jack looked at his father with a slight smile. It was after all, Jack who had pushed his father to find a girlfriend so he could be happy like he had been before Ellie had succumbed to the cancer that had come from nowhere.
Will let out a breath he did not realise he had been holding. So far so good. He watched Jess sat down with both children, two dogs and even the cat vying for her attention. Julie, appeared in the doorway, and nodded her approval before taking her leave. If Jess was good enough for his former mother in law, then he knew that this could be something. He hoped this would be something. He had taken the step to introduce his children to her, she was part of their lives too now.
He glanced to the sideboard and saw the photo. Elle looked so happy, it was their wedding day, and they stood outside the castle, underneath an arch of roses in full bloom with a beautiful sunset behind them.
Yes tonight was definitely up there with the most important nights of his life and so far so good.