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Drama Romance

Tom Archer exited Rathbone’s Jewellers with a gift-wrapped engagement ring and a splitting headache following his hourlong ordeal with Isabel, the loquacious proprietor. She’d bombarded Tom with countless gemstones and relentless sales patter until he capitulated and picked a brilliant-cut solitaire in a white gold band. Even as Tom fumbled for his wallet, Isabel was assuring him the ring was a timeless classic that conveyed the traditional meaning of hope and agreement. 

It’s perfect for your prospective fiancée, she said.

I’m sure you’re right, Tom said, offering his visa card.

When are you hoping to propose, sir?

I’m not sure, he said, but soonish. 

She’s a lucky lady, Isabel said, handing him the receipt with a discreet smile. The moment you place it on her finger, you’ll seal a special bond and guarantee a lifetime of commitment.

#

Tom was the lucky one, and he knew it, although he hadn’t heard from Yolanda since he accompanied her to Palermo airport twenty-nine days ago. He still had vivid memories of five days with her in Sicily after their chance meeting on holiday. Two years before, they’d met at a party in London and it was a pure coincidence they’d encountered each other again. She’d been travelling with friends but abandoned her plans when she met Tom at his hotel bar and they’d remained there until her departure date. 

Yolanda promised she’d write once she’d relocated and settled into her new job, but after a quick calculation and allowing for complications, that was over a fortnight ago and he was still waiting for her letter. 

Every morning Tom had wandered past his apartment’s hallway, hoping to spot an air-mail envelope on the doormat, but, alas, he was still waiting. He'd written to Yolanda two weeks ago, care of her old work address, declaring his love for her and said he wanted to marry her. Maybe he was hasty given their short and fragmented history. Could he have scared her off by being honest? He’d only told her how he’d felt.

She must be deciding, Tom told himself. She’d so much to think about. He appreciated her promotion was difficult enough, but moving to Paris was full of fresh challenges, too. Tom assured himself she just needed more time. He had to sit tight and wait for her to make contact. If Yolanda liked Europe and wanted to stay, he’d told her he’d move there, too. His spoken French was passable, and he’d get by if they lived there together.

#

Another week ebbed away and Tom dashed off a letter to Yolanda, outlining his concerns. He suggested she take her time to decide how they ought to proceed. With no other contact details, he resorted to sending it to her old work address and hoped for the best.

#

Two more agonising days passed by. He’d checked the early morning post and rushed back from work, hoping for an afternoon delivery, but there was still no sign of Yolanda’s reply. There were only brown envelopes and take-away menus on Tom’s threadbare doormat. He piled the utility bills on his pending tray and tore-up the food adverts, crushing them into a tight ball in his fist before binning them.

#

It was the next morning when Tom received a letter addressed to a name he didn’t recognise; R. A. Tomlinson, 37 Park View Road. Every so often, he received mail by mistake, which he intended forwarding. He was always too busy to return the items to the post office, and he’d built quite a collection. However, Tom decided enough was enough; it was time for a clear out.

On his way to the paper-recycling bin, curiosity got the better of Tom. The latest mis-posted letter had a distinctive quality; its cursive handwriting had a unique flow, and the envelope bore a hint of an expensive perfume. Its scent was like a solitary cloud that lingers on a bright summer’s day, before skulking off again, afraid of its own shadow. 

Tom returned inside and propped the envelope against the silver toast rack on his kitchen table. It didn’t appear out of place there, and Tom imagined Yolanda’s letter would have a similar presence. As he hauled on his overcoat, he wondered when her letter would arrive and thoughts of Sicily and his time with Yolanda returned to besiege his mind. Tom wasn’t naïve. Holiday love affairs happened every day, however, wanting to marry was something else. He had assumed, from her behaviour, that she felt the same way. Yolanda was intelligent and would do nothing impulsive. Nor would he ever propose to anyone on a whim. Marriage was something one considered for weeks, months, maybe a year or two. He felt he’d contemplated his earnest proposal of marriage for longer than five days in Sicily. Tom believed Yolanda was serious minded too and, with so much in common, they stood every chance of happiness.

That evening, Tom rushed back from work. He hoped to find a letter from his beloved. The disappointment sapped his strength, and he slumped down at the kitchen table and nibbled his chicken kebab. With a weary sigh, he drained the remains of yesterday’s wine bottle into a glass. The fragrant letter whispered to him as he sipped his drink, beckoning him with wafts of the alluring perfume. His heart pounded as he put down his glass and reached for the envelope, peering about his kitchen as if he were on CCTV. No one would know if he opened it. He’d seal it afterwards and return it to the sorting office tomorrow.

Tom noted the sender’s address in Brighton and Hove as he waited for the kettle to boil. A minute later, he’d steamed open the seal on the back of the envelope. The letter was four pages with writing on both sides.

“Dearest Robert,” it began,

“I miss you so much and have to write to you. Have you really decided about how you feel? You said you thought it would all vanish for both of us and was a passing fancy. Have you no idea how I yearn for you? Ever since our time together walking on Brighton beach…”

The poor woman was in love with R. A. Tomlinson, whoever he was. He was non-committal, and she was waiting for his answer; a sign either way as to his intentions. She must be writhing in agony. 

My God, he muttered, if only Yolanda would write me a letter like this. 

Tom deduced from the letter’s content that Mr Tomlinson hadn’t written since their last encounter and had avoided replying to Edith. 

The last paragraph seared his mind:

“I didn’t think I’d write to you again, but now I’ve done it. I have to be honest, my darling. It’s just the way I am.”

Tom felt that way, too. 

The letter concluded:

“Do you want to see me again? I’ll know if I don’t hear from you. Love, Evelyn.”

Tom held his breath, and for a moment he imagined the woman’s pain; her loneliness and forlorn hope. With three brief words, he could make her so happy, or rather, Mr Tomlinson could.

Sadistic prick, he whispered.

Tom lost his appetite and couldn’t stop thinking about the words in Edith’s letter. He left his apartment and walked into town to distract himself, but the damn letter haunted his thoughts. Edith had swallowed her pride and bared her soul to someone who was cruel and thoughtless. Her unrequited love must be tearing her apart. He imagined how she must wait every day by her letterbox for some response. How could Tomlinson put her through that? 

Like himself, Edith was suffering from her emotions. Tom was happy in Sicily, but life since without Yolanda had been torture. 

My God, it’s been thirty days now. 

Tom felt a wave of nausea as he recalled his declaration of love in Sicily. Yolanda’s jaw sagged when he’d announced it. She’d said, “I love you too,” but only the once. Maybe he’d been too honest? Possibly he wasn’t honest enough? If only he’d told Yolanda he wanted to marry her at the time. He might have lost her because he hadn’t.

#

After shoving Edith’s resealed envelope under the post-office’s main door, he inhaled and with a sigh retraced his steps. Ambling home, he had a thought; no, an inspiration. He imagined what Tomlinson would write to Edith if he’d read her letter. Maybe he couldn’t write words of love, but he’d agree to meet her. Face to face, they could compromise or part with a sense of closure.

#

It took Tom thirty minutes to scribble out his thoughts and then write his response to Edith. He said that he hadn’t written because he wasn’t certain of his own feelings. He wanted time to think things through. Tom clarified he wanted to speak to Edith and meet her in person. It was “the decent thing to do,” he wrote. Tom offered days when he could visit her in Brighton and suggested Thursday evening next week. If she could meet him at the railway station, he’d be much obliged. Tom concluded by saying if he didn’t hear from Edith, he’d expect to see her there around seven o’clock in the evening. He signed it “Love from R”.

#

While he’d been writing the letter, he’d not imagined posting it, however as he read his typewritten words, he considered the possibility. If it gave her some relief from the agony of Tomlinson’s ignorance, maybe it would help. In the short term, at least, it wouldn’t do any immediate harm. Tom stared at the letter to Edith. All he wanted was a cheerful response. He returned to the letter and concluded by writing;

“P.S. Please reply to my new office address as detailed below…”

#

It was Tuesday morning when Tom arrived at work and found a scented envelope lying on his desk. His secretary drew his attention to the mail and peered over her glasses as he opened it. Tom noticed her inquisitive glance, and he blushed. She tucked her tongue in her cheek and continued typing as he read the contents. Edith wrote in her neat cursive handwriting that she was available on Thursday and would meet him on platform two, at seven o’clock. Tom slumped down in his chair as the reality of his actions took hold.

What had he done? He never expected to receive an answer. How would Edith react if Tomlinson didn’t show up? What a mess he made of things.

#

Thursday evening approached and witnessed Tom biting his nails on the Brighton bound train. It pulled into the station five minutes earlier than expected and he alighted with the rest of the commuters. He headed towards the exit, but then scuttled into the station café. From a handy window seat, he could survey the entire length of the busy platform. 

The tsunami of commuters dispersed until there was a slow trickle leaving the carriages, and two women waiting for their loved ones at the turnstiles. One was a short, broad-shouldered woman in a leather jacket who waved as her friend approached. They disappeared from view, leaving a tall, elegant young woman in a fur-collared overcoat. She looked pensive and kept scouring the remaining passengers as they meandered up the platform towards her.

#

Tom left a five-pound note under his saucer and exited the café. His face blanched as he made his way towards the young woman. He edged closer until he stood at the adjoining turnstile, not daring to breathe, lest he startled her. Tom was near enough to catch a whiff of that familiar scent lingering in the air. He reached into his pocket, rummaging for the band of white gold he’d purchased two weeks before. Tom held the ring in his fist as he edged past Edith, stopped nearby and stretched downwards, saying, My God! Surely not?

Edith turned around to face him as he stood up, holding the sparkler between his thumb and forefinger. 

It’s your lucky day, Tom said.

No, I couldn’t take---

May I? He said, reaching out to support her left hand as he manoeuvred the ring toward her second finger.

Wait, what are you—-?

Look, he said, sliding the ring into its traditional location. It’s perfect for you.

Edith’s eyes darted about as she bit down on her lower lip.

Please take it, said Tom. No one need know.

We ought to hand it to lost property---

I’d be honoured if you’d accept it.

You’re a funny one, she said, frowning.

Will you promise you’ll think about it? he said, genuflecting on his left knee and gazing up into her eyes.

I’ll think about, she said, withdrawing her delicate fingers from his hand’s light embrace like a snake shedding its old skin.

I can wait, Tom whispered.

Just give me a moment, she said, smiling as she extended her left wrist to admire the exquisite diamond as it twinkled on her ring finger.

#

Tom could wait a moment.

His life had been a waiting game.

He’d waited for that perfect moment forever.

 

The End




August 26, 2023 03:57

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12 comments

Marty B
01:32 Sep 02, 2023

This is like the reality show 'Married at First Sight' which seems kinda crazy- except, in this story- Tom does know this woman, a bit. He has read her letter, understands that they both are in the same situation, broken hearted by a long distance relationship. If Love at First Sight is going to happen, well- this is as good a chance for Tom as any. And a better use for the ring on a beautiful woman's finger than in his pocket!

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Howard Halsall
06:58 Sep 02, 2023

Hey Marty, Thanks for your shrewd analysis and thoughtful comments; they’re much appreciated. Take care HH

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Helen A Smith
13:06 Sep 01, 2023

This story kept me intrigued to the end. Two like- minded souls or just two lost ones? Time will tell, I guess.

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Howard Halsall
14:38 Sep 01, 2023

Hey Helen, Thank you for taking the time to read my latest story and share your thoughts. I’m pleased it kept you captivated until the end and provided food for thought. Who knows how things will work out; very often the most unlikely couples have a wonderful life together…. Take care HH

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Karen Corr
23:01 Aug 30, 2023

It might work. They’re definitely two of a kind.

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Howard Halsall
23:20 Aug 30, 2023

Hey Karen, Thank you for reading and commenting on my story…. I’m not convinced either party is necessarily sound of mind, but then they say, “only fools fall in love,” More likely, I sense a couple of restraining orders and an I.O.I. might be forthcoming…. What d’ya reckon? HH

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Karen Corr
00:16 Aug 31, 2023

Ha ha! I could see that too, Howard.

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Wendy M
08:03 Aug 30, 2023

Nice one! I think they will go for coffee, start talking, she'll try to take the ring off but it won't budge, they laugh, agree to meet again. At that moment Yolanda and Tomlinson enter the coffee shop, holding hands.....oops. Did you realise you'd signed the letter Evelyn, not Edith?

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Howard Halsall
08:31 Aug 30, 2023

Hey Wendy, Thank you for reading my story and taking the time to share your thoughts. I hadn’t thought about Yolanda and Mr T appearing at the end, so it was amusing to consider what chaos might ensue…. BTW I’m kicking myself about the mistake you pointed out… daft of me not to spot it. Take care HH

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Michelle Oliver
12:05 Aug 29, 2023

A romantic soul who perhaps doesn’t quite read the situation well. Tom seems to struggle with interpersonal relationships and likes the idea of a relationship but struggle with the intricacies of interactions. He’s not sure if he has said too much too soon, or not enough too late. I like that he might have met his equal in the romantic waiting game. I wonder how his will all pan out? Thanks for sharing

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Howard Halsall
12:23 Aug 29, 2023

Hey Michelle, Thanks for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. Concerning your question; I guess the relationship is doomed to almost certain implosion, if indeed it ever gets going. The couple would probably be too needy and never allow each other out of their sight. But who knows? It takes all sorts I suppose…. Take care HH

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Mary Bendickson
18:37 Aug 28, 2023

Twist and turn. Thanks for reading and liking my letter 💌

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