Contemporary Fiction Romance

A muffled percussive thrum on my windscreen nudges me back to life. I recognise that black ski glove and those killer dimples, and I wind down the driver’s side window.

“You’re early today?” He leans forward and kisses my cheek.

“I wanted to be sure of the best seat in the house.” 

He grins. “Nobody would dare to park here first thing.”

I smile and rub the sleep from my eyes.

“Happy birthday, darling.” I pass him an envelope.

“Hey, you shouldn’t have.” He accepts the gift and hands me a steaming takeaway. “Your usual,” he says, and passes me a spoon and two sachets.

“How’s things with you?” I clutch the drink and lean over to unlock the door. 

 “I’ll survive.” He circles round to the passenger side. “Is Hattie not here today?”

There is enthusiastic panting from the back seat. He opens the door, and she hops over to the passenger seat and snuffles off after Charlie, who’s busy watering my driver-side hub-cap.

“There’s no stopping those two.” He chuckles. “Are you up for a walk today?”

“Let’s just watch the light show for a while.”

The sky is already putting on a spectacular display for us; heralding the return of the major feature. Tangerine clouds tinged with gold blossom before our eyes. The heavens are going wild this morning. 

I curl up next to him and close my eyes.


Six months ago, I had no idea he was the one. My antenna was switched off that day. We’d both been walking our dogs, and he’d come to my rescue. Hattie had left a mess on the pathway, and I’d forgotten my poo-sacks again. Sometimes, I don’t bother if there’s no one around, however everyone’s so touchy about it nowadays. I saw a couple nearby, so I thought I’d better make an effort. I tried to lift the business with a stick and get it out of the way. Once I’d lifted it, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. When he approached me, I was standing beside Hattie, as if I was a BBQ guest examining a charred specimen on a skewer. 

   Jeff’s dog, Charlie, rushed over the meadow toward Hattie. They had instant chemistry. Charlie snuffled around Hattie. She remained reserved and receptive before reciprocating in kind. Jeff squatted down next to Charlie and brought him to heal.

“Sorry about, that,” he says and offers me an open poo-sack. “Charlie’s not normally so forward.”

I smile and say not to worry. I was still looking at Jeff’s dark brown eyes when I shook the morsel from the stick. The plastic bag proves elusive. I fail. The deposit falls on Jeff’s left shoe. He stands up as I bend down and we both clash our heads. 

“Sorry! sorry!” I clutch the top of my head. “I’m so sorry, are you?”

“It’s ok,” he says, clutching his nose. “It’s not broken...”

“...you’re bleeding!” I reach inside my pocket for a handy wipe. “Please let me.”

“It’s fine,” he says, leaning his head back and then smiling. “I’ve seen a lot worse in the triage unit, believe me.”

Those dimples are to die for. “Let me buy you a coffee at least.”

“I can’t stay, I’ve work.”

I am crestfallen. “Maybe another time?”

“Some morning, maybe.” he says. “Hey! Charlie! Come here!”

Hattie had made a new friend that day, even if I hadn’t. I watched Jeff walk over to his car. It was an Audi estate, dark green and a couple of years old. He opened the rear hatch for Charlie. A minute later they’d disappeared.


This morning, the first orange rays of sunlight flicker across Jeff’s face and he pulls down the car’s sun visor flap to protect his eyes. I nestle into his neck and he shifts his arm from around my shoulder. 

“It’s gone dead,” he says, flexing his fingers and rubbing his forearm with his free hand. I look up at him and reposition my head on his firm chest.  “I can’t hang out today, darling,” he says, stroking my hair with his long fingers. 

“I thought we were going to spend the day together?” I do my quivery-pouty bottom-lip-thing, but he holds firm.

   He had to get back to tell Isabel. It was now or never. Jeff had to speak to her this morning and say it was over. It had been over for a year as far as I knew. They had separate beds in separate rooms and separate lives. They’d “outgrown each other”, he’d said, and they’d both moved on. Well, he’d moved on at least, I knew that much.

He kisses my hand as the sun ascends above the tree line on the far side of the lake. His lips were warm and soft despite the morning chill. Before he’d wiped the windscreen, there’d been globules of condensation on the glass and the ghost of a heart shape. I’d drawn it with my fingertip. In the middle, I’d put my initials next to his. He’d smiled and added a “XXX” underneath, and he’d kissed my lips. It had been hard, he’d said, to carry on like this.  Jeff had pretended everything in his life was all right; but it was impossible. He hadn’t found the right moment to speak to Isabel. They argue all the time, especially when his shift pattern at the hospital means working late. They had money issues, like everyone else, I suppose. He’d told her he had to do long hours to earn more money to pay for everything. She said she’d get work and that would help, but she never did. It wasn’t his fault. She wanted to live in that house and go on holiday all the time and everything else. She couldn’t see how tired he was and how they never spent time together because of that pressure. Jeff said he still cared for her, but it was killing him. He just had to find the right moment to talk to her. It hadn’t happened yet, that’s all. 


The morning after our collision, I returned around 7 am and pulled up in my usual spot.  The sky was clear, and it was light despite the sun not clearing the horizon. An autumnal mist hovered above the motionless surface of the lake in front of my car. He hadn’t arrived yet, and there were only three other vehicles in the car park. Hattie was desperate to get walking. I calm her down with a snack. Maybe he’d been already? The cafe owner had just arrived and was opening up the serving hatch. He was silhouetted against steam rising from his Gaggia’s cleaning cycle. Hattie was whining when I let her out, and I walked over to speak to him. 

“Can I help you, madam?” He says.

“I’d like a cup of err...” He raises an eyebrow as if he’s gauging my request. “Do you recognise your daily regulars?” He nods. “There’s a man with a dark brown retriever puppy?” He furrows his forehead. “He has a big German hatch back?”

“Ah, you mean Jeff and Charlie?”

I nod.

“He’s an early morning latte man, madam.”

“I’ll take two,” I reach for my purse. “How much, please?”

“That’s seven for two.”

“Have you seen him this...?”

“Morning, George.”

“You too, Jeff.” 

Oh, my God. 

“Your latte, sir, courtesy of this lovely lady.”

I want to die.

“No, surely not,” he says, “it’s my turn today.” He spares my blushes and hands George a tenner.


And so it began, long sunrise walks with a coffee and happy dogs. We had perfect moments in our pre-dawn paradise. There was a regular route and a rainy-day-circuit too, though I never noticed the weather when I was there with Jeff. The clean air was a relief from the city’s choking roads. It was our oasis in all the grime. I don’t remember seeing anyone else in our park, ever. It was our kingdom and our forest and our lakes too. On busy mornings in the summer, we’d joke about how we should restrict the public access to the estate. And how it’d been a mistake to allow them to bring their vehicles onto our land. It would never do. 

It felt perfect, but I had to know for sure.

“What’s your star sign?” I’m trembling. This could all fall apart.

“Don’t know, but my birthday is in November.”


“The 24th.”

“So, you’re Sagittarius.” It’s the real thing, for sure. “I’m Aquarius.”

“That’s good?”

Oh my goodness, that’s so right for me, and he doesn’t even know it.

We stop at a bench to let dogs off the leads and watch the sunrise.

It’s our bench now.


Now I’d discovered Jeff’s birthday, I had to buy him a lovely watch. I shouldn’t have spent so much, but I knew he’d love it. I had to be very organised to create an exciting treat for his special day. A week before his birthday, I returned to the wood by myself. I used my phone to get a picture of the tree with the heart-shaped hole in the bark. I’d noticed it first a few months ago. We had to struggle through bracken to get to it. It was hollow inside. “A perfect space for two,” I’d said. We squeezed inside. I was right. It was a perfect fit. Inside that hollow tree, we kissed. We were queen and king of the woodland, parkland royalty in our own castle. We stayed there until the sun had gone way over the tree line and we could hear a steady stream of traffic chugging in low gear on the perimeter road. 

“Damn the public.” 

He smiled and lifted his arm from round my shoulder, “it’s gone dead, sorry.”

“We should close the gate after 8 am and stop them visiting.” 

He nodded and rubbed back the feeling into his numb limb.

   First, I made a map of the trees in our wood; they all had little metal numbered tags. The map had all the features we visited every day: the heart tree, the broken silver birch and the stick dwellings left by the little people. I had it all planned out. I visited the photo store and got them to make a special printed jigsaw of my heart tree picture. 

   After I’d created my treasure trail, I prepared lots of clues and returned to our wood to hide them away with the jigsaw pieces. We’d follow the clues together and use the map to collect pieces of the puzzle and then at last he’d find his watch hidden inside our heart tree. I spent three days planning and executing my scheme. I wanted it to be perfect.

It’s our tree and our park,and it all belongs to us now.


Jeff didn’t tell me much about his life, except that he worked in the A&E. He never even told me where he lived. At first, I assumed he was single. He asked about my life but whenever I tried to find out about him he changed the subject. “I was just interested, that’s all,” I’d say, “I wasn’t being nosey.” He was a busy professional something-or-other, but I didn’t know much more. 

I told him about how my husband was a high functioning alcoholic and how we lived separate lives. Jeff asked if he ever took Hattie for a walk, and I told him he wasn’t a morning guy. We had had children together, but they are all grown up and I’d found that difficult. Being a mum and suddenly not being a mum is hard. My hubby worked all the time and was home late every night. I didn’t care what he did anymore. Jeff had changed all that. My life was bearable again. I loved planning little surprises. Jeff liked my surprises, too. He was going to enjoy this one. We’d both have fun.


When Jeff left this morning, he forgot his envelope. I discovered it later, on top of the dashboard. I’d got food prepared, and I’d brought Hattie’s basket too. The treasure hunt could wait until he came back later. He’d return with good news after speaking to Isabel. Hattie and I could stay in the park and walk and enjoy the last warm day of autumn. So we walked and walked until we’d both walked far more than enough.


There’s a tap on the driver’s side window.

“You’re here late today?” It’s George with an offering.

I wind down the window.

“I wanted to be sure of the best seat in the house.”

He hands me the steaming cup.

“Your usual,” he says, and passes me a spoon and two sachets.

I rub the sleep from my eyes.

“Thank you,” I say, and take the cup. “How kind of you.”

He peers into the rear of my vehicle. “No Hattie this evening?”

There are enthusiastic breaths from the back seat, the travel rug comes to life, and she scratches at the rear passenger window.

“We’re closing up for the night and they’ll be locking the gates, love.”

“I’m planning to watch the heavens tonight.”

“Is there a meteor storm or something unusual?”

“I suspect there’s a misalignment, but I can’t be sure.”

“So it‘s divine inspiration you’re after?”

“I need celestial intervention right now.”

“At least you have Hattie for company.”

“I have the moon and her reflection too.”

“She'll always be there, that’s for sure.”

The End

November 21, 2020 04:53

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I really LOVED this story so much! Great job! =)


Howard Halsall
15:48 Nov 23, 2020

Hey, thank you for spending time to read my story. It’s great to get feedback :)


Your welcome!


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Echo Sundar
16:28 Nov 26, 2020

I love this story! Really sweet. It was fun to read and I loved the plot!


Howard Halsall
17:02 Nov 26, 2020

Hey Rachel, Thank you for reading my story and giving me the positive feedback. I’m glad it all made sense in the end. Much appreciated. :)


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Akshaya ✨
14:20 Nov 26, 2020

Your story was gripping, and the characters were well developed. I liked the way you added bits from the past in between to explain their present relationship. I really enjoyed reading it! Great work!


Howard Halsall
14:53 Nov 26, 2020

Thank you for reading the story, Akshaya. I appreciate the feedback and I’m really happy you enjoyed it. I’m also relieved that it all made sense :)


Akshaya ✨
15:07 Nov 26, 2020

Welcome :)!


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