I met him at the singles club, when I went up to the bar to get my friend, Leyla and I a drink. As I slid into a gap between two gentlemen, one of them smiled.
‘Evening, haven’t seen you here before.’
‘No, it’s the first time I’ve been.’
‘I’ve been coming about four months. My wife died six years ago, and I thought to myself time to get out and meet people.’
‘My husband died six years ago too.’ With that he shook my hand. ‘Jim.’ In that moment my perception did a seismic shift. When he’d first started chatting to me, I’d thought him fanciable. He had a pleasant face with clear blue eyes, a broken boxer’s nose and slightly twisted front teeth. He was slightly built, probably only 5′8″, but that didn’t matter because I’m only 5′3″. Like most of the men there, he was dressed in a short-sleeved check shirt and light-coloured trousers. It seemed to be some sort of uniform. In that light bulb moment, I realised that he was at least ten years older than me. The barman came over, and I ordered a red wine for Leyla and a diet coke for me – I was driving. I anticipated that he might offer to pay for our drinks and resolved to politely refuse, as I’m not one to exploit people. I needn’t have worried, he stood there and watched as I fished out my purse and handed over a note.
Being careful not to slop any of the drinks, I weaved my way through the mass of heaving dancers, as they gyrated in the semi darkness of flashing disco lights to the thumping beat of the music. Leyla was sitting to one side of the social club at a Formica table. She was a buxom brunette with a heart as big as her massive hair. As I gave her her drink, she took a grateful gulp. We didn’t waste much time sitting around, we were there to dance, and so were soon up, in amongst the other dancers, jerking and bopping to the music. I was vaguely aware that very few men were on the dance floor. Most sat around the edges, assessing the talent. It was not until the slow dances started that they got up, approached the lady of their choice and asked her to dance. Someone made a move on Leyla, and so unwilling to stand dancing on my own, I began to head back to our seats. Jim appeared, blocking my way
‘Would you like to dance?’
‘No thank you.’ I continued back to our table. Although I had vague fantasies of meeting the man of my dreams and re-establishing the happy life of coupledom that, I used to have with my husband, I knew that this was not possible. I was here because Leyla and I loved to dance, and this was one of the few places where people of our age were able do this. I sank back onto the chair, and started to fiddle with the strap of my shoe. When I looked up, Jim was perched on the table beside me. He had one buttock on it, one leg on the ground and the other dangling. It meant that he was higher than me.
‘If your husband is sitting up there on a cloud watching you, do you think that he would want you to be unhappy?’
‘No’ At this point, I wanted this annoying little man to leave me alone. Since becoming a widow, I had established a life for myself with a good group of female friends, and felt that to ‘move on’ would be akin to adultery. Rather than take the hint from my abrupt answer, he continued to sit there, gazing benignly at the top of my head. I stubbornly refused to look at him or say anymore. These awkward few minutes were over, when the last dance was announced and Leyla appeared back by my side. Jim slipped off the table, saying as he did so ‘See you again.’ I felt irritated at his audacity.
He was persistent, I give him that. Each Saturday, as Leyla and I strutted our stuff, there he’d be: watching. Or he and a group of friends would dance near us. Regular as clockwork, when the slow dances came on, he would ask me, never put off by my refusal. He danced with other ladies. In fact, there didn’t seem to be many women there who he didn’t dance with. After a few weeks, as we drove to the club, Leyla said.
‘Why don’t you just dance with him? Maybe the reason he keeps on is because you’re a challenge. If you said yes, perhaps he’d leave you alone.’ The thought of another man touching me made me feel physically sick, but it made sense. I braced myself, and when he made his customary approach, I said yes. As we danced, he was respectful, keeping to a formal distance, and making polite small talk.
The weeks progressed and a slow dance with Jim at the end of a Saturday evening became a routine, until one night he asked if I would go out for a drink with him. I agreed, feeling excited. We met in a pub midway between our homes. As we entered the pub, I said.
‘I don’t want to offend you, but I always like to pay my way.’ He nodded his assent. We sat down and began chatting. Out of the blue, he said.
‘I’ve got an important question.’
‘Do you like marmite?’ He followed this with his high-pitched laugh, more like a child’s giggle than a man’s laugh. At the end of the evening, as we walked towards our cars he asked.
‘Come and sit in my car, chat for a bit.’
‘No, I need to be going.’ I wasn’t sure what he was after.
‘Hold on a minute.’ With that he presented me with a margarine tub filled with home grown tomatoes.
‘Lovely, thank you so much.’
‘No, there’s something else. That was only a joke.’ Again, the high-pitched laugh. He went to the boot of his car and pulled out a bunch of yellow roses. They were from Aldi, but I was deeply touched. He didn’t have much, but had spent his money on me.
‘Come to the club with me on Saturday?’ he asked. I’d expected him to suggest a meal, to get to know each other better.
‘Wouldn’t you like to go out just the two of us?’
‘No, I like to dance with you.’ I agreed to pick him up on the way through, as I would be giving Leyla a lift anyway.
The following Saturday, we pulled up at Jim’s address. It was a neat, detached bungalow set in an immaculate garden with a well-maintained lawn and flower beds. He opened the front door and beckoned us in, offering us a cup of tea as we entered. The bungalow’s inside was as pristine as the exterior, although a faint aroma of mothballs pervaded the rooms. Leyla and I were itching to hit the dance floor, so we politely refused the tea and got going. This became our new routine: Leyla and I collect Jim and go to the club on a Saturday night. Sometimes other friends would join us. Gradually, things progressed, we started to stay at each other’s houses on alternate Saturdays, meaning that every other week one of us could have a drink. We began to meet each other midweek, for a walk along the coast, or a trip to a local shopping centre. To avoid embarrassment, I suggested that we keep a kitty, each contributing the same amount. Jim used this to buy our drinks on a Saturday night, or snacks when we were out. Before going in anywhere for refreshments, he was always careful to compare the prices on the menus in the window. He preferred to take a flask and sandwiches wrapped in foil rather than buy something from a café. On the days that we didn’t see each other, he would ring me every evening 7.30pm on the dot.
When I wasn’t seeing Jim, my life continued much as before. I worked part-time as a counsellor, and he once commented that if I was to be a bit more careful with my money I wouldn’t need to work. I loved my job! It stretched me intellectually, gave me purpose and bought me into contact with a fantastic group of female colleagues. He wasn’t keen when I made arrangements to meet these women outside work. There was a group of us who liked to walk together, go to the cinema, or share a meal out. It was one of these latter occasions that prompted some friction between Jim and I. Telling him that six of us were going out for a Chinese meal, he had commented.
‘You might want to rearrange that.’ My response was.
‘And I might not.’ He hadn’t liked it. I could tell by his slapped arsed face, and the fact that he was quiet all evening, but he got over it.
My friends were arranging to go to a local music festival. It was on a Saturday from midday until late, and featured tribute bands. They asked me to go with them and suggested that I take Jim, saying.
‘The more the merrier.’ Some were taking partners, some preferred not to, and some were single. I spoke to Jim about it and his response was,
‘We go to the club on Saturdays.’
‘It’s not written in stone. C’mon let’s do something different. It’ll be fun.’
‘How much is it?’
‘£11.00. We can pay for it out of the kitty.’ Reluctantly, he agreed to come.
The day of the festival dawned, and I picked up Jim, Leyla and another mutual friend. We had to carry our fold up chairs from the car park to the entry gates. The queues were long, but fast moving, we could hear the pulsating music and tannoy announcements from within the ground. At the gates, our bags were searched. It was prohibited to take food or drink into the site. Once inside, we were confronted by a hive of activity. There was the huge dome of the stage, bordered on either side by large screens, and banks of light. A fairground, complete with dodgems, Ferris wheel and hoopla stalls was to the rear of the site. Long queues were already snaking out from the food stalls which sold everything from chips, hot dogs, curry and wraps, their smells beckoning customers towards them. The bar tent swept along the entire length of the ground, again with hordes of punters, clutching plastic tumblers waiting to be served. There were banks of green, plastic portable toilet cubicles with swarms of people popping in and out of them.
We scanned the site, searching for our group of friends. They had established themselves towards the centre of the area, forming a camp with two random hay bales, a blanket spread on the ground and their chairs. They were in high spirits, several already dancing to the music, which was pumped out by a tiny, ant like figure on stage, gripping a mike, and whose image was displayed on the large screens. There was much hugging and excited squealing as we joined them, and Jim watched amazed as one pulled out a clear, plastic pouch of liquid from underneath her blouse. Several had filled these containers with spirits and smuggled them in, thus saving themselves the expense of buying alcoholic drinks from the bar.
The atmosphere was great even if some of the acts were mediocre. I was soon up dancing with my friends, joining in with their arm swirling, swaying antics. Unusually, Jim sat on his chair, looking hunched and miserable. I went over to him.
‘I’m cold and hungry.’
‘Go and get yourself something to eat, and then come and dance.’
‘At these prices!’
‘Doesn’t matter, we’ve got the kitty.’
‘The queues are too long.’
‘Do you want to go home?’
I made our excuses and said goodbye to my friends, folded up our chairs and began the long walk back to the car. There was an uncomfortable atmosphere between us.
‘I didn’t like the way your friends were behaving.’
‘They were drunk.’
‘Slightly tipsy maybe, but they were only having fun.’
‘Is that how you behave when you’re out with them?’
‘What if I do?’
‘I don’t like it. It’s not ladylike.’ I was furious, these were my friends and he was criticising them. Back home I made him beans on toast and a cup of tea. We sat stiffly, side by side on the settee, staring at the blinking TV, not talking.
We had been seeing each other for five months, and I realised that, I needed to finish our relationship. Although, I loved to go out dancing, I was becoming bored with the routine of going to the same place every Saturday night. Jim on the other hand was beginning to hint at something more permanent, and I knew that to continue would be unfair. I decided that when I dropped him home, I would have the conversation with him.
‘I’m sorry Jim, I need to stop seeing you.’
‘Why? We get on so well!’
‘I’m not ready to settle into premature old age.’
‘You’re saying I’m too old for you?!’
‘You are ten years older than me.’ At this point, two fat tears escaped from one of his eyes and he dabbed at them with a crisp, white linen handkerchief. I felt like a complete louse, but I needed to be free, to continue to live my life as I wanted.
‘You can’t do this. I’m Prince Lorenzo-Jaime de Orleans Borbon Sanlucar de Barrameda’
‘And I’m Lady Lorna, Countess of Kinnoull.’
‘No, really. I’m the great, great, great, great, great grandson of Queen Victoria.’ His desperation was becoming embarrassing. I wanted this conversation to be over.
‘It doesn’t matter who you are. I’m just not feeling it.’
‘You must listen to me. I’m rich, you can have anything you want.’
‘That’s just it, I don’t have to listen to you. I already have what I want.’
‘You can’t do this. When my wife died, I came here, where no-one knows me, to find a woman who would love me for who I am, not for what I can give her.’
‘But I don’t love you.’ My need to escape was making me cruel. I turned on my heel and walked rapidly back to my car.
The irony of us finding each other was not lost on me. I am the Countess of Kinnoull. When Edward died, I turned my back on the county set. I think that I was searching for some form of meaning to my existence, a reason to carry on. I liked my life now. My friends are more genuine and fun than previous acquaintances. I can enjoy myself without worrying what the paparazzi might say, or their intrusive photographers taking unwanted snaps. I have no wish to return to the constraints of a lady in waiting’s role.
Of course, Jim did not give up there. After all, he was accustomed to getting what he wanted. Initially, he asked if we could still see each other as friends. Reluctantly, I agreed and was intrigued to find that despite his true identity now being revealed, he still continued to check prices where ever he went and kept the venues for our meetings modest. I wondered if he doubted my real identity, and thought that I wouldn’t cope with anything grander. It was of no consequence, I now found being with him claustrophobic. I began to invent prior engagements[SW1] [SW2] when he suggested an outing. He refused to take the hint, and his ‘phone calls became more persistent, until I blocked his number. Then, he began to turn up uninvited at my home. It was as though, he was unable to believe that someone had refused him. I asked him to stop calling round. He reacted with anger and tears, but still kept coming. Eventually, in desperation, I moved to another of my properties in a neighbouring town. This was one privilege of my wealth, I own several houses, so could easily move. I wonder how people with less money cope with persistent admirers?
Several years later, as I surfed the internet, a familiar face looked back at me. It was Jim, he was standing on the steps of a vast church, maybe a cathedral. He looked suave and debonair, and happy! Beside him stood a beautiful young bride. At first, I thought he was the father of the bride giving one of his daughters away, but the caption read:
‘Prince Lorenzo-Jaime de Orleans Borbon Sanlucar de Barrameda and his new bride’
I read on:
‘Yesterday, Prince Lorenzo-Jaime de Orleans Borbon Sanlucar de Barrameda married his English girlfriend, Tracy Lawrence. Describing their meeting as a ‘fairy tale romance’, she told us that she met the 67-year- old Italian prince whilst working in the local fish and chip shop. Tracy, 23 years his junior, said that he had kept his identity a secret, but she had been swept off her feet by his old- fashioned charm.’
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Hello! I found this story very intriguing. Although the prompt gave away the fact that one of them was nobility, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting both of them to be. I liked your use of language, like “suave and debonair”. Very entertaining, great job! I do have one quick question, though. I noticed for your quotation marks that you use ‘ instead of “. Is that a specific writing style you’re using, or a typo? It’s fine either way! Great story! Keep writing :)
Thank you for your kind comments. I use ' for quotations and '' for speech. Not sure if that's the right way to do it or not. Thank you again for reading my story.