The Opening Chapter to: My Girlfriend’s Perfect Ex-Boyfriend

Chapter One

Girls like mountaineers. I think that’s something we can all agree on.

And as a confident, twenty-first-century male, I can understand the appeal. Mountaineers are rugged, brave, adventurous, determined. They laugh in the face of danger. They have adrenalin where others have blood. They can pitch a tent on the side of a rock face, in the dark, with one hand, whilst fending off polar bears. I doubt even a woolly beard, chock full of frozen ice, is enough to negate all the innate female-attracting manliness that comes with the whole mountaineering gig.

Which is why I’m half way up a mountain. Somewhere in Tibet. Taking a quick selfie. If anything’s going to impress Paige, this is it.

Ken, my sherpa, is waiting patiently for me to finish capturing the moment. I have no idea what his real name is. Probably something like Kennunanmahindo. But it really doesn’t matter. When you spend your days lifting and hauling luggage through the Himalayas – the vicious frozen waste lands that divide Tibet and Nepal – well, you could be a guy called Susan and still be thought of as the rugged personification of everything masculine.

I wave to Ken that I’m ready to continue, pocket my camera, adjust my goggles, and on we plough.

That’s how we’re communicating now. Through a series of waves and gestures. I have no idea how much English Ken speaks but it’s irrelevant at this altitude. Just breathing is a challenge. Talking would be a staggeringly stupid use of breath.

It’s funny; even though the wind is relentless, and the snow here has more in common with razor wire than the pathetic flakes of partially frozen water we have back home, I’m barely even registering the pain any more. In fact I relish it. Every gruelling step along what Ken laughably describes as ‘the path’ is just testament to the fact I am alive, and beating the odds. I doubt even Paige will be able to leave me alone when I see her next. My God, beard or no beard we’ll probably end up doing ‘it’ on the luggage carousel at Heathrow airport! “Ade,” she’ll gasp, “I need you! God I need you! Let’s do it! Right here Adrian! Now!” And if that thought isn’t enough to propel me onwards I don’t know what is.

Not that I should be having thoughts like that. Not at this precise moment anyway. I can almost make out the temple through the blizzard, and I really ought to be in a place of extreme reverence when we finally get there.

I’m not really sure what to expect. ‘Spiritual enlightenment’ would be good. Or perhaps anything that comes under the broad heading of ‘answers’. To be honest, right now I’d settle for somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep, and perhaps a meal that doesn’t come out of a tin. Everything else I need is waiting for me back in London – and probably having similar thoughts about that luggage carousel I shouldn’t wonder.

The temple is quite clearly made from stone, brought here – one presumes – by the monks, one boulder at a time. The doors on the other hand are made of oak. Each one is at least twenty foot high, ten foot wide, and looks as if it they could stop a tank – it’s exactly what I was expecting.

The doorbell, on the other hand, is a bit of a let down.

Okay, so clearly it’s slightly more than your average hardware store doorbell offering – it’s obviously been designed to withstand some pretty poor weather conditions – but still, surely a large wrought iron gong would have been more fitting?

I communicate all of this to Ken with a wave and a head toss, but he just nods solemnly, reaches out a gloved finger and presses the bell. From inside the temple I can hear a deep echoey ‘ding dong’, and then one of the doors creaks opens – just a crack; just enough for each of us to squeeze through. And it’s only when the door booms closed behind me do I suddenly appreciate how damn noisy it was out there. For the past two days I’ve heard nothing but the sound of a million damned souls screaming their eternal torment.

But not in here.

In here the only sound is the constant murmur of monks repeating the same four syllables over and over. It’s not exactly musical but at the same time it’s like someone has poked their fingers into my ears and is steadily massaging my brain, which would be fine were it not for the fact my brain is also trying to take in the splendour of the temple.

There are candles everywhere; they’re hanging from the ceiling on giant chandeliers, they’re wedged into crevices in the walls, they’re on ledges, and tables, and candlesticks, and all over the floor. It’s as if someone started with one candle, and then put another wherever there might be shadow. There are so many candles that my eyes feel like they’re being bathed in light and it actually takes me a moment to notice the sixty foot gold statue at the far end of the great hall… and I’ll be honest, it’s not quite what I was expecting.

“Welcome,” says a voice just behind me. I turn to face a monk, his hands pressed together just in front of his chest. He gives a slight bow and I do the same, though with considerably less grace. “Welcome, weary traveller,” he says again.

“Er, yes,” I say, “thank you. Thank you for allowing me… well, in, I guess.”

“All are welcome in the house of—”

“Yes, yes,” I say, “thank you. I do appreciate it. Really.” I squeeze in another quick bow and force a smile. “Look, I er, I wonder if… I don’t wish to be rude or anything, it’s just… I was… about the statue—” The monk looks over my shoulder, and as he does so his face is bathed in reflected gold light. His smile broadens as though he’s just slipped into a foamy bath.

“Our master,” he breathes.

“Right. Your master. I see.”

“And also your master.”

I nod my head from side to side. “I’m… not so sure about that,” I say.

“He is the master of all things,” insists the monk. I turn to look at the statue again. Just to make sure I wasn’t mistaken the first time. Just to make sure that the intoxicating combination of candlelight and incense and endless bloody chanting hasn’t somehow caused me to imagine a sixty foot gold effigy of a smug, grinning man in a three piece suit, holding – amongst other things – an iPhone.

It hasn’t.

“He doesn’t look very… Tibetan,” I say, through gritted teeth.

“No one knows where the master really comes from.”

“At a guess I’d say it was Basingstoke.”

The monk nods. “The sacred lands?” he says. “Perhaps you are right.”

“And I can’t help noticing that he seems to have an extra pair of arms.”

“To symbolise the many gifts he brings to the world.”

“I see. And what is that he’s holding in his right hand?”

“That is the true symbol for communication.”

“I meant his other right hand.”

“A ball of the finest yarn, to symbolise his warmth and generosity of spirit.”

“And when you say ‘finest’, I don’t suppose you mean regular sheep’s wool…”

“Oh no. Alpaca. The sacred beast.” I bite my lip, hard, and try not to explode.

“And in his… left… hands?”

“The ancient pendant from the land of Bavaria, with which he summons forth his holy chariot. Notice the markings.”

“Yes, that’s a BMW logo.” I say. “It’s a BMW key fob!”

The monk nods, and frowns, and nods some more. “I know not of this… fob… of which you speak.”

“And the bowl!?” I ask.

“The sacred chalice of holy sustenance.”

“Which is what exactly?”

“Sweetcorn fritters,” he says. “Food of the gods. Would you like some?” He claps his hands together so gently it’s barely audible, but as he does so two junior monks appear out of nowhere with bowls of, what I can only assume, are sweetcorn-bloody-fritters.

And then my mind makes sense of it; the four syllables that the monks keep chanting over and over. It’s a name. A name that I’ve come to despise. A name that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

Se-bast-i-an, Se-bast-i-an, Sebastian…


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The opening chapter to: The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl

chapter one

Boxing Day, 1997

Liz. Where do I start? I suppose the end is as good a place as any.

Despite that dreadful first date – sitting in a near empty pub, trying to conjure sparks of conversation out of the void between us – I clung to the possibility that behind that cold, hard exterior was a warm heart, a sensitive soul, and someone whose yin was a close match to my less than melodic yang.

I was wrong, of course.

Liz was not the girl I’d hoped she would be. Any fantasies I’d had of ‘romantic happy ever afters’ soon gave way to a cast-iron certainty that I never, ever, wanted to see this girl ever again. And three years later I finally got around to telling her.

On Christmas Day.

Yesterday.

Right after she’d proposed marriage.

I hung my head in shame, and tried hard to blend into the background. But The Tulip, with its garish Christmas decorations, antler-wearing bar staff, and ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ thumping out of the juke box, was really only adequate cover if you were a high-spirited festive drinker. Right now I was struggling to look like a drinker, let alone high-spirited or festive. I hadn’t touched my pint. It was as lonely and dejected as I. Which made it all the more annoying when a chubby hand appeared and swept it away.

“This mine?” asked Alex. He drained two thirds, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, let out a satisfied belch, then sat down next to me. “Where’s yours?” he asked, after a moment or two. I stared at a fleck of melting snow caught in the stubble on his face and the pathetic strands of damp blond hair glued to a forehead that had once sported an impressive quiff.

“That was mine!” I said.

“You only bought your own?” asked Alex. “You selfish bastard.”

“I didn’t know how long you’d be, did I! Happy bloody Christmas.”

“Yeah,” said Alex, “you too.” He glanced in the barmaid’s direction and gave her a nod to indicate that one of us required another beer. “Look – can’t stay long. Mum’s serving lunch in half an hour. I only sneaked out by volunteering to walk her dog. Poor sod’s tied up outside. Weren’t you supposed to be spending the day with Liz’s grandmother?”

I let out a long, tortured sigh.

Alex stared at the side of my head. “What? Did she die or something?”

“We broke up.”

“You and Liz’s grandmother?”

“Me and Liz!”

“Oh right,” said Alex, nodding sagely. “Yeah, that can happen. Christmas gets them all worked up. Really brings out the bitch. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “By the time you get home she’ll be standing on your doorstep, dressed in nothing but a raincoat, holding a four-pack of beers …” He tailed off and stared into the distance, still holding the pint glass in front of him. I let out a single, humourless laugh as I massaged my eyes with my palms.

“Now you know that isn’t Liz,” I said. Alex frowned, then let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Ok,” he said. “I give in. What the hell happened?”

* * * * *

We’d just left my parents. The first few flakes of snow had started to fall. As I drove, eyes fixed ahead, Liz broke the silence.

“Jason,” she said. “I think we should get married.” Then, when I didn’t react in any way, she added: “Or break up.”

* * * * *

Alex’s frown deepened.

“So?” he asked. “What did you say?”

I blinked. “You know what I said.”

“No I don’t,” said Alex.

“Well, you can probably guess!”

“Let’s assume,” said Alex, “that I can’t.”

* * * * *

I said nothing. Not immediately. Not until I realised that this was it. This was the moment I’d been waiting for, the past three years.

“Then we should break up,” I said.

The rest of the journey felt like a bad dream. I clung to the steering wheel and stared forward, mesmerised by the way the flakes swarmed in huge silent clumps, right before they rushed at the windscreen. Rushed at me. Occasionally I’d steal a glance at Liz, sitting there with a hand to her mouth, her sleek jet black hair shielding the side of her face. Every now and then her body would jolt and shake as if someone in the waking world was using a defibrillator to bring her back from this nightmare.

And when we finally got to her place, I switched off the engine and we sat outside for what seemed like a lifetime.

“Want to come in?” she asked eventually. Just as she had done a million times before.

“No,” I said. “No, I think I ought to make a move.”

“Jason Smith!” said Liz, still facing forwards but raising a good inch and a half in her seat. “I believe you owe me an explanation!” I said nothing for a moment whilst I considered what to do next.

“Ok then,” I said eventually.

“Fine!” said Liz, getting out of the car and slamming the passenger door behind her. I watched as she marched up to the communal entrance of her flat and started attacking the door with her key. Then I put my hands back on the wheel and took a dozen deep breaths.

* * * * *

“You didn’t go in?” asked Alex. I waited for a moment or two whilst the barmaid put two fresh pints before us. Alex dug around in his pocket for some change, and whilst he did so I handed her a five pound note.

“Of course I went in,” I said, once the barmaid had returned to the till.

“Are you mad?”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“Drive home!”

“She’d have only phoned!”

“Unplug it!”

“Or come over!”

“Change the locks!”

“In the middle of the night? On Christmas Day?”

Alex raised a finger, but when no further words of wisdom were forthcoming, he lowered it, picked up his pint, and brought it to his lips.

* * * * *

By the time I’d removed my coat and hung it on my allocated hook, Liz was in the kitchen. And for the first time in months, possibly years, I took a good look at my now ex-girlfriend.

She was wearing one of my sweaters. And though it was gigantic on her petite frame, it looked good on her. Certainly better than it did on me, although any hint of a bosom was lost within its deep woollen folds. Still, I liked the way her hair fell long and straight to the centre of her back, and though I’d long since given up on seeing her in some sort of skirt or dress, those skinny jeans were very flattering. I could almost fancy her if she wasn’t – well, if she wasn’t Liz.

In many ways she was a woman out of time. Forced to live in a century which required her to at least acknowledge some sort of feminine side. In another era she’d have been commanding armies of bloodthirsty, muscle bound warriors. Crushing her enemies. Bending whole nations to her will. Expanding her empire. But here there were no nations to conquer. No empire. Only me.

I glanced into the lounge. If I went in and waited for her to come and find me I could put off the inevitable for at least another minute or so. Then I saw the two seater sofa and thought better of it. Rock hard cushions stuffed to within breaking point, upholstered in the textile equivalent of sandpaper. If doilies had been in fashion there’d have been doilies.

“So, that’s it then?” she asked, as I walked into the kitchen.

“What do you want me to say?” I asked. She stopped what she was doing and turned to face me, one hand perched high on her hip, the other gripping the edge of the kitchen worktop like she might break off a chunk and use it as a blunt instrument.

“I want to know why you want to break up!” It hadn’t occurred to me that this was something I still ‘wanted’ – I’d assumed the deal was done.

“You gave me a choice,” I said.

“But you didn’t even have to think about it,” spat Liz. “It was like your mind was already made up.” I said nothing. “It was, wasn’t it!” continued Liz, but all I could do was shuffle. “How long?” she asked.

“A while,” I said.

“What – a week? A month? A year?” My mouth opened, but no words came out. Liz frowned. “Longer?” she asked. I took a deep breath, then blew it out through puffed out cheeks. “Jason! That doesn’t make any sense! You can’t have spent the whole of our relationship waiting to break up!”

“I wasn’t,” I said. “I was …”

“What?”

“Waiting. For things … to get … better.”

“Better? What does ‘better’ mean? How can our relationship get any better? I love you, you love me – at least I thought you did. We get on with each other. We like the same things, sort of. I cook. I put up with your mess. We don’t even argue that much! I don’t see what I could do to make it ‘better’! Other than magically transform into bloody Kylie Minogue, of course!”

“Don’t be silly,” I muttered, but the blood was already rushing to my cheeks. Liz stood there. Her jaw clamped shut, her lips thinned, her eyes flickering with rage. Then she pushed past me and marched out of the kitchen. A second or two later the bedroom door slammed with such force it shook the whole flat.

* * * * *

Alex shook his head.

“You should have dumped her months ago,” he said.

“Probably. But I didn’t want it to end that way. This way.” Alex’s face contorted into a mixture of confusion and disbelief.

“How did you expect it to end?” he asked.

“I dunno. I kinda hoped that she’d meet someone else.”

“That was never gonna happen,” said Alex, shaking his head again. “She’d pegged you for a keeper from the start.” I turned and gave Alex a long hard look.

“She didn’t even like me at the start!”

“Probably not,” said Alex, working on his drink, “but she saw potential. Thought she could change you. Women think like that. It’s why they get so frustrated. We’re a major disappointment when we stay as we are.”

“That’s just cynicism.”

Alex shrugged. “It’s true,” he said, and drained his second pint. I looked at mine, still untouched. Then I picked it up and put it in front of my friend. Alex took it without question. “So?” he asked. “Then what?”

I sat in the hallway with my back against the bedroom door. I’d more or less given up trying to explain how I felt without actually explaining how I felt, and the various sounds of Liz punching pillows or sobbing into them had long since stopped. For all I knew, Liz had climbed out of her bedroom window and was slashing my car’s tyres whilst I sat holding the watch she had given me for Christmas, watching the seconds tick by.

I opened my mouth to speak. “It’s not you,” I wanted to say, “it’s me.” But that would have been a lie. Of course it was her. Liz had been manipulative, devoid of humour, and at times cruel. She’d spent the first few months of our relationship calling me James because, and I quote, “I don’t really like the name ‘Jason’.” She’d even tried to change my name. That was how controlling she really was!

Then why was I feeling guilty?

Because her real failing wasn’t her faults, but the fact that she wasn’t the person I’d hoped she would be. And once I’d realised that I should have come clean, set her free, returned to my miserable single existence. Instead I started waiting. For a miracle.

Any miracle would have done. I’d have settled for a slight thaw in the Ice Queen’s demeanour. Or an opportunity for us to part with a minimal amount of bloodshed. But in truth, the miracle I’d set my heart on was to be rescued – for someone specific to walk back into my life and give me the impetus I needed. That sounds ridiculous, I’m sure. But against all the odds it had actually happened. And when it had, Liz had done what Liz did best: She’d rallied her armies. And crushed the opposing nations.

From that moment on I no longer wanted to be a part of her empire.

“Are you still there?” she said eventually.

“Yes.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” I said.

“If it’s not me, just what is it that you do want, Jason Smith?”

I said nothing for a moment. “I don’t know,” I lied.

“I’ve been such a fool,” she said after a pause. “You never loved me. I see that now. I too was waiting. Waiting for a moment – one that was never going to come.”

I shivered. Partly at the coldness of her words, partly because I knew what it was like to spend your life waiting for ‘a moment’, but mostly because she was right; I’d never loved her.

“Jason,” she said eventually, “just leave.”

I left the watch on the side as I left, then crunched through the fresh snow to the car and somehow summoned the courage to glance up at her window, just in time to see her draw the curtains.

And that was it. In typical Liz fashion, she’d decided on a course of action. The three years of her life, with me, were over. Why then did I feel so wretched?

* * * * *

“Stupid,” said Alex. I looked over my shoulder to see if he was talking to someone else. He wasn’t.

“What’s stupid?” I asked. Alex stared back at me for a moment, then shook his head.

“Mate, I know I’m your best friend, but when it comes to women, you don’t have to be a genius to know what you want.”

“How can you say that?” I asked. “I’m not even sure I know what I want!” Alex said nothing. Just frowned slightly and stared into the space in front of his nose like he was attempting long division in his head.

“Fifteen years,” he said eventually.

“I’m sorry?”

“You’ve been hung up on the same girl for the past fifteen years.”

“What girl?!” I asked. But Alex said nothing. He just turned his head slowly until he was looking right at me.

He was right, of course.


TGGGTGTG-drop-shadow‘The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl’ is my debut novel. Read more about it here, and buy it here.