Michelle Ward (of Phoenix FM) asked me recently if I had a favourite chapter in my novel The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl.
I’m not sure if I’m really supposed to have favourite chapters – if I am then I’m pretty sure it should be either the first, or the last chapter… but in my case, I have to confess, it’s chapter six.
Chapter Six serves as a bit of a breather for the reader. The plot jumps back in time to 1988 when our hero, Jason Smith, is still in his teens, and – thanks in part to British Rail – finds himself accidentally on a date with his old school crush, Melanie Jackson.
Unfortunately for Jason, things aren’t going too well. You know what it’s like I’m sure; that moment the Universe has finally handed you the opportunity you’ve been waiting for your whole damned life, and you’re screwing it up!!!! Fortunately for our Jase, in a moment of complete brilliance, he manages to grasp back control of the conversation by asking Melanie what she would wish for, were he to be able to grant her anything.
Three anythings to be precise.
Mind you, what she comes up with isn’t exactly what he’s expecting, in fact…
Actually, how about I just let you read the chapter for yourself?
Here we go then. Chapter Six. Hope you enjoy.
Friday 8th January, 1988
“Passenger announcement: British Rail regrets to announce that due to adverse weather conditions, services in and out of Liverpool Street are currently subject to delay. Passengers are advised to continue watching the information boards for further details. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
As I descended the stairs from the rainy streets, the station concourse was a heaving mass of suited bodies, most of whom were gawping at the words ‘cancelled’ or ’delayed’, but each one silently – or not so silently – doing what they did every Friday evening: hating British Rail.
Why was it always a Friday? The reasons varied, of course – overhead line problems, incident at Bethnal Green, engine failure, leaves on the line, wrong type of snow – but it always happened, always, on a Friday night, when all that I wanted was to get back to Chelmsford and join Alex in the Tulip. In a few weeks I would be twenty. And how would I be celebrating that particular milestone? If British Rail had anything to do with it I’d be standing on the concourse of Liverpool Street Station with the rest of the goons.
I threw my bag over my shoulder and headed back up the steps and into the city.
* * * * *
I was the only one in the Wimpy. Other than the waitress. And the burger chef. I sat by the window and watched the rain streak down the glass to the sound of the strip lights fizzing and popping over my head.
“Kingsize and chips,” stated the waitress as she placed my food on the plastic table. I turned to look at her, but she’d gone.
Kingsize and chips. Normally I’d argue that this particular meal was a bite-sized portion of happiness on a plate. Right now, however, it was taking the place of several pints of Guinness, the company of my best friend, and the promise of a five minute stagger back to his mum’s house for as much toast as we could eat.
I let out a long, miserable sigh, picked up the burger, and went to take a bite.
“Jason?” I looked up into two gorgeous emerald green eyes, and froze. Those were her eyes. My field of vision widened to take in her nose. Regal in nature. That was definitely her nose. Then there was the slightly coy, but nonetheless playful smile. And those beautiful white teeth. And that hair, tumbling out from under a cerise beret – even though she was now a blonde my heart wasn’t fooled for a moment; it was still her. And all at once I was fourteen again, trombone in hand, looking across at her from my place in the brass section.
“I thought it was you,” she said. “You don’t recognise me, do you? It’s –”
“Melanie. Mel! Hi! Of course I… of course – Hi!”
“I was walking by and I thought, ‘Is that Jason Smith?’ And, well – here you are.”
“Here I am!” I said. Nothing happened for a moment. And then she smiled.
“That looks nice,” she said, glancing at the burger in my hands. “Do you come here often?
“Here?” I asked. “No – I – there’s a problem. With the trains.” I jerked my head in the general direction of Liverpool Street Station.
“So you can’t get home?”
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. At some point. They usually do.” I nodded. Then smiled. Then nodded some more whilst I tried to think of something to plug the gap in the conversation. “Is that why you’re here?” I asked eventually.
“No, I saw you as I was walking past –”
“No, I meant, are you stranded in London?”
“Me? No, I live here now,” said Melanie.
“In the City?”
“No!” laughed Melanie. “North London. I work in the City. I’ve just left the office.” I glanced at the clock on the wall – it was a quarter to seven. “I was walking to the tube,” she added. I nodded. And smiled.
“Right,” I said.
There it was again. A gap in the conversation. Only not so much a gap, more a bloody great rift. Something was supposed to be happening now, but I had absolutely no idea what.
“I suppose I’ve got time to join you for a bit,” Melanie said, taking off her mittens and matching scarf.
“Oh – really? That would be – Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked.
“Mmm – a Diet Coke would be nice.”
“Right!” I said, putting my burger down. “Let me get you one!” I stood up and started digging deep in my pockets for loose change but my fingers met nothing but tissues and screwed up receipts. I dug deeper, hoping for a miracle, but considering Melanie Jackson had just walked back into my life after a five year absence, two miracles in one night seemed highly unlikely.
“Here,” said Melanie, reaching into her handbag, “let me.” She produced a five pound note and passed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said, barely managing to conceal my humiliation. “I’ll be right back.”
* * * * *
“So you didn’t go to uni then?” asked Melanie. I shook my head.
“More studying?” I said, stuffing the last of the chips into my mouth, then washing them down with tea. “Give me a break.”
“But you were one of the clever ones!”
“I always thought uni sounded like fun,” said Melanie, playing with the straws that poked through the lid of her Coke. “All those parties…” She leant forward to take another sip, looking up at me as she did so, which made her eyes seem all the larger.
“Yeah,” I said. Parties? Ugh. “Why didn’t you go to uni then?”
“Oh please,” said Melanie after a long noisy slurp of her drink. “And study what? Brain surgery?”
“Nah, I needed a job. A girl needs shoes! They don’t buy themselves. Well, not unless you have a boyfriend.”
I’d barely registered what she’d said before I heard the words “You don’t have a boyfriend!?” tumbling out of my mouth with all the subtlety of a rhinoceros at a village tea party. But Melanie didn’t seem to notice.
“Not really,” she said, before hoovering up the last of her Coke.
“Oh,” I said, following it with a small nod to conceal my confusion. Not really? What did that mean? Either you do or you don’t, don’t you? ‘Not really’ sounded as if there was a bloke in Melanie’s world who thought he was her boyfriend but would discover, possibly in the not too distant future, that he wasn’t. Poor bastard.
“Nothing serious,” said Melanie, reading my mind. “You know what it’s like.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I said. No. I didn’t understand that at all.
“What about you?” she asked
“What about me what?”
I laughed. “Me? No,” I said.
“Well,” I said, feeling myself flush slightly. “Nothing serious. You know…”
“Footloose and fancy free, eh?” said Melanie.
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“I always wondered,” said Melanie, idly playing with her straw again, “why you never asked me out.” For a moment or two, time ground to a halt. Even the strip lights above us seemed to stop their manic flickering whilst they waited for me to respond.
“You did?” I asked, swallowing.
“Well…” I puffed my cheeks out. “I guess, I erm…”
“Maybe you didn’t fancy me?” said Melanie with a shrug.
“What? No! I mean, yes! Yes I did.”
“Do!” I said, correcting myself, then almost as quickly: “Did! No – Do! I mean –” Melanie’s smile broadened until it was a fully fledged grin and her eyes flashed like a card player who’s holding all the aces. I felt my face flush again, and took a deep breath. “You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”
“A little bit,” said Melanie, running her tongue along the edge of her lovely teeth. I could feel my face getting redder still. Other things were happening too: my heart was beating out a rumba, and a shy smile was sidling across my face. I looked down into my empty polystyrene cup to try and hide it. “Come on,” she said, touching my arm. “Let’s find a pub – I’ll buy you a proper drink.”
* * * * *
I staggered back to our table with another round. I was extremely drunk. Though not the usual blurry intoxication that followed a few pints. Instead everything, and everyone, sparkled with a magical sheen. The barman greeted me with a cheery wink. Fellow drinkers smiled at me as I passed by. Even my stagger was just a side effect of feet that were through with walking and wanted to dance.
Melanie grinned as I sat down next to her. It had been the only way I could hear what she was saying over the collective din of the Red Lion’s clientele. Now, of course, most of the after work drinkers had left but moving to the other side of the table would have seemed rude. At least, that’s what I was telling myself.
“So where were we?” I asked.
“You were telling me about computer games,” said Melanie, “the ones you would make – and how amazing they would be.”
“I was? Oh.” I scratched my head. “And yet somehow you’re still here? Enough about me – tell me what you’re doing.”
Melanie’s shoulders slumped.
“Oh, I just work reception for Harris, Harris and Harris. It’s a law firm.”
“Right. And is it good?”
Melanie gave me a long, serious look.
“No Jason, it’s crap. It’s the world’s most boring job.”
“Oh,” I said. “But is the money good?”
“Right,” I said. “So what did you want to do?” Melanie sipped her Malibu and Coke, and stared into the distance.
“I guess that’s the problem,” she said after a while. “I didn’t really know.”
“Alex always thought you’d be in a band with Robert Palmer,” I said, bringing my pint to my lips. “Like one of the girls in that video…”
“Oh did he now?”
“Uh huh. And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“What did you imagine I’d be doing when I left school?” I felt myself blush again. Melanie saw it and raised an eyebrow.
“Erm, I thought you might be a model. Or something.”
“Really?” she said, that familiar evil grin working its way across her face. “And what kind of modelling did you envisage?”
“Just modelling,” I lied.
“Uh huh,” she said again, leaning forward to stare into my eyes. “Thought about this a lot, did you?” I swallowed
“Not a lot,” I lied again.
“Mmmm,” she said, and smiled. She leaned back and picked up her glass again. “Sounds like I should have come to you and Alex for career advice, rather than taking the first crappy job that came along.”
“You could always get a different job,” I suggested.
“It’s not… that simple.”
“Sure it is,” I said. But Melanie dropped her gaze to her lap and suddenly I could see that the crappy job situation was a conversational minefield that we’d wandered into, and only a miracle, or something similar, was going to rescue us from it. “Look,” I said, placing my pint on the table in a determined manner, “how about this – I’ll grant you three wishes.”
“What?” said Melanie, looking up.
“Three wishes. Right now. One time offer only.”
“You’re going to grant me three wishes?”
“Sure. But you have to make them now.”
“And I can have anything I want?”
“Well, I thought we were talking about your career but –”
“If you’re going to start handing out wishes, Mr Genie of the Guinness Barrel, I’m not going to waste them on work!”
“Well ok,” I said. “Three wishes, to do what you like with.”
“Right,” she said, repositioning herself and putting her hands in her lap. She looked past me and bit her lip whilst she considered her options and, not for the first time that evening, I suddenly wanted to kiss her. And it was more than a mere urge. I found myself having to exert considerable effort just to prevent myself from leaning forward and –
“Ok,” said Melanie. “Wish number one: I wish I had a pair of Jimmy Choos.”
“Jimmy what?” I asked.
“Only the best damn shoes on the planet!” said Melanie. I frowned.
“You’re going to use your first wish on shoes?!”
“Not just ‘a pair of shoes’!” said Melanie. “Jimmy Choos – they’re in this month’s Vogue and everything!”
“Yeah, but why didn’t you wish for a million pounds or something – then you could buy all the bloomin’ shoes you –”
“What? I can do that?” she asked.
“Well, of course you can do that!” I said, and I picked up my pint.
“Ok – I wish for a million pounds.”
I put up my hand whilst I took a sip. “Too late now,” I said, “you’ve made your wish.”
“What? No! That’s not fair.”
“Too late,” I said again.
“It’s not too late!” protested Melanie.
“Judge’s ruling, I’m afraid.” She let out a long exasperated sigh, then resumed her thinking pose, though this time her face was fixed into a determined frown.
“Ok,” she said after a moment. “Second wish – I wish I could have my first wish back!”
I shook my head.
“Sorry. No can do.”
“That’s not fair!” I held up both my hands. “Ok, ok,” she relented, putting her hands in her hair and massaging her scalp. My eyes dropped to her chest and for a second or two I was back at school, sitting in the orchestra, peering at her from behind my music stand. “Ok,” said Melanie, unaware of my leering, “wish number two: a million pounds.”
“That’s a bit boring.”
“What? I can’t have wishes if they’re boring? Who makes these rules?”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t have your wish – just that it was a bit boring.”
“But you suggested it!”
“Yeah, for wish number one – instead of shoes! I was expecting something a little more interesting for wish number two.”
“Well, I’m sorry!” said Melanie, folding her arms across her chest.
“No, no, that’s ok. You can have your million pounds.”
“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.
“I’ve got to tell you that as well?”
“No, I just thought you might have something in mind.”
“Jason,” she said, putting a hand on my thigh, “I’m a woman – it’ll be spent in no time.” She took her hand away and I glanced down, fully expecting to see some sort of glowing sparkly hand print.
“Ok,” I said, after taking a moment to compose myself. “Wish number three?” She sighed.
“That’s easy,” she said, turning in her seat to face forwards. Her shoulders slumped, and a chill swept through the room. “Somebody who doesn’t run out the door twenty seconds after… you know.” Her chest rose and fell as she took a melancholy breath. “Someone who will lie there, just for a little while and maybe talk to me for a bit?” A lump formed in my throat. I wanted to put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her, but – I couldn’t. This was Melanie Jackson. And I’m Jason Smith. Instead I watched as she traced her finger round the rim of her glass, acutely aware that somehow the magic had stalled, and that our evening had begun to nosedive into a black sea of despair.
No. I wouldn’t let it. Not this evening. Melanie Jackson had walked back into my life, lent me the money to buy her a Diet Coke, invited me out for a drink and spent the best part of two hours flirting with me. Either this was destiny or, more likely, destiny had her back turned! Either way, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t about to let it crash and burn.
“Would you be wearing… anything… at this particular moment?” I asked, with a cough.
“After, you know… the sex?”
“Probably not,” she said
“Well, I can’t see why any man in their right mind would want to run off.” Melanie blinked again. “I mean – this one wouldn’t. Not in a million years. So, erm,” I took a decisive breath, “- wish granted.” She smiled. Not the cheeky grin that I’d seen several times that evening, but the warm, coy smile of someone who recognises when a friend is trying to be nice.
“Thank you,” she said, softly.
“You’re very welcome,” I said. A thought occurred to me. “Ok, look, I feel a bit bad about your first wish – I’m not saying that it was unfair or anything, but I think that in hindsight, maybe I could have explained the rules a little better –”
“Yeah!” said Melanie, poking me in the ribs with a finger.
“So in view of that, and on the strict understanding that this is a goodwill gesture from us in the wish-granting community –”
“I can have another wish?” she asked, clapping her hands together and bouncing up and down in her seat.
“I’m going to let you amend one of your wishes.” The bouncing stopped.
“Amend?” she asked suspiciously.
“Yes. But,” I said, as she opened her mouth to speak, “think about it first! Don’t just blurt out ‘I want another pair of Jimmy blahdy-blah shoes.’”
“There’s nothing wrong with wishing for a pair of Jimmy Choos!” said Melanie. “I don’t think you appreciate just how amazing they are!”
“Yeah, well, whatever,” I said, waving away the comment. She assumed her thinking pose. Her top lip curled and wriggled around under her nose whilst she considered her response.
“Ok,” she said.
“You’re ready?” I asked.
“So which wish are you amending?”
“The third one,” she said.
I moved backwards like I was trying to assist my eyes in focusing.
“The third one?”
“Wha- ok then. So what is it now?”
Melanie took a deep breath.
“I wish that one day I’ll meet a guy. And he’ll be… well, perfect – and by perfect I mean perfect for me. Not necessarily the kinda guy I would pick, because I always pick bastards, but the kinda guy that, I dunno, my mum would pick… if my mum had decent taste in men. Do you know what I mean? Anyway, I’d meet this guy and it’ll be ‘the moment’.”
“The moment?” I asked.
“Yeah. The moment. I might not even realise it at first, but looking back later I’ll realise that that was ‘the moment’ – when my life changed, and everything got better, and all because of him. There, that’s my wish. I want the moment. Can I have that please? Jason?”
“Sorry,” I said, shaking the entrancement out of my head. “I was distracted.”
“What by?” she asked.
“Your lips,” I said. “Moving.” She smiled. Not the cheeky Melanie Jackson grin, or the coyness I’d seen a moment ago, but the new, bright, sensuous smile of someone who knows just how powerful smiles can be.
“Melanie –” I said.
“Oh my God,” said Melanie, looking over my shoulder.
“What?” I said, swivelling round to try and see what she was looking at.
“Is that the time?” There was a clock on the opposite wall. I checked my wrist watch.
“Oh Jason, I had no idea it was so late – excuse me.” She shuffled down the seat and stood up.
“Are you – are you leaving?”
“’Fraid so. Sorry. I was supposed to be somewhere else half an hour ago,” she said.
“Oh, just this place.”
“Well, is it important?” I asked.
“Erm, yeah,” she said, checking for something in her purse and producing a travel card. “Look, I’ve really enjoyed this evening. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”
“Yeah, that would be –”
“Ok. Great,” she said, leaning forward to kiss me on the cheek. “Well, take care,”
“Ok, but when?”
“I’ll – I’ll call you,” she said as she squeezed past me.
“But you don’t have my number!”
“I’ll look you up.”
“But – look me up where?”
“Sorry, gotta run,” she said as she got to the door, and all but sprinted out of the pub and into the city streets. I stood there, rooted to the spot, my hand on my cheek where her lips had brushed, swaying slightly as if someone had just slugged me round the back of the head with something heavy. For a split second I wanted to run after her, grab her by the arm, and… something. What? What would I do? I felt my knees buckle and I slumped back into the chair. There was nothing I could do. Because she was Melanie Jackson. And I’m just Jason Smith.
My eyes settled on her wine glass, noticing for the first time the lipstick mark on the rim, and I thought about Melanie’s last wish – her amended wish – and ‘the moment’ she craved so badly. I picked up the glass and examined it.
“Wish granted,” I said.
Fancy reading the rest? Right now the paperback is about six or seven quid – something like that – whilst the ebook is normally just over £2. BUT, right now, amazon have the novel as part of their July Summer-Reads Promo – which means if you’re quick, you can download the entire thing for just 99p, and help push me up the charts! Go on, help out a struggling author 😉