Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Five Dates: Apple Crumble

This week I'm sharing a short story series inspired by The Little Teashop of Broken Hearts.

Click to catch up with parts one and two

Part Three:

Natalie wasn’t sure she had the energy for another date – and there were two more after this one. But she plastered on a smile and extended a hand to the man sitting opposite.
‘Hello. I’m Natalie.’
Her date took her hand in his and gave it a shake. ‘Splendid to meet you, Natalie. I’m Walker.’
‘What an interesting name,’ Natalie said.
He gave a little shrug, his cheeks starting to take on a pink tinge. ‘Thank you. I have interesting parents, I guess.’
Their desserts arrived then, this time ramekin dishes filled with apple crumble and hot custard. Natalie took the opportunity to assess her date while the waitress set the dishes in front of them. He was medium height, slender, and with a thick thatch of raven hair. He’d dressed better than her last date, opting for a smart bottle green jumper over a white shirt.
‘So, Natalie,’ he said once they were alone again. ‘What do you do?’ He picked up his spoon and started to eat his apple crumble as Natalie told him about her job as a carer, trying to make it sound as interesting and sparkly as possible. She told him about some of the people she visited – there were quite a few characters on her schedule – steering clear of some of the more unpleasant aspects of the job.
‘It sounds wonderful,’ he said once she’d finished. He’d listened intently, chuckling at the funnier parts. ‘I bet it varies day to day, which keeps things interesting.’
‘No two days are ever the same.’ Natalie realised she’d been too busy chatting to eat her dessert and picked up her spoon, digging into the crumbly topping. ‘What do you do?’
Walker cleared his throat, whispery frown lines disturbing his smooth forehead. ‘I’m a dentist.’
‘Oh.’ Natalie’s spoon froze half way to her mouth and her tongue began exploring her teeth for foreign objects and cavities.
Walker smiled now, his cheeks turning pink again. ‘I get that a lot. Don’t worry – I’m not about to start examining your teeth. And I don’t carry a drill around with me, just in case. I love my job, but I love my free time too.’
Natalie managed to relax her features into a smile. ‘Sorry. It’s just …’ She was terrified of the dentist. She had to be practically pinned down in the chair every time she went for a check-up and she lived in fear of the day she’d have to have a filling. Or worse.
‘It’s okay.’ Walker held up a hand. ‘I understand. Shall we change the subject?’
‘Yes please.’
So that’s what they did. They chatted about hobbies and their favourite films and TV shows and Natalie managed to forget about the whole dentist thing. Walker was quite sweet, asking questions as well as answering them, giving his full attention to Natalie throughout. His cheeks had a tendency to pinken at random points during their date, which led Natalie to believe Walker was feeling as awkward as she was at this set up.
‘Is this your first speed dating experience?’ she asked. She’d finished her apple crumble, which had been so delicious she’d been tempted to lick the dish clean.
‘It is.’ There went the cheeks again. ‘This is my first dating experience for quite some time.’
Natalie wrinkled her nose. ‘Me too. It was my friends who signed me up for this, actually.’
‘Really?’ The pink patches on Walker’s cheeks deepened. ‘My sister signed me up. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for me to forgive her. No offence, obviously. It’s just … not how I expected my life to turn out.’
‘No offence taken,’ Natalie said. She leaned in towards Walker and lowered her voice. ‘I started to freak out when I got here. I was thinking about running away.’
‘I’m glad you didn’t,’ Walker said. His cheeks were fuchsia by now. ‘This is the first decent conversation I’ve had since I got here. I’m sure the last two ladies are lovely, but …’ He shook his head, his cheeks almost turning purple.
‘I get it. I was hardly bowled over by my first two dates either.’
‘Why are we putting ourselves through this, Natalie?’ Walker asked, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
‘Because we have lousy friends and family,’ she said, and Walker laughed.
‘The lousiest. I shall be having words with my sister in the morning.’
‘Don’t be too harsh, though. I’m sure she was only looking out for you.’
Walker nodded. ‘She was. She thinks dating again will be good for me.’
‘What do you think?’
Walker frowned, giving the question deep thought. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve only been divorced for a couple of months. Oh.’ He cringed. ‘Oh dear.’
‘What is it?’ Natalie reached across the table, placing a gentle hand on Walker’s.
‘My sister warned me not to mention the D word. She says it’ll scare women off.’
‘More than being a dentist?’ Natalie asked and Walker chuckled.
‘Touché. I imagine being divorced doesn’t come close to that horror.’
‘It’s not so bad, actually,’ Natalie said. ‘I think I’m coming to terms with sitting opposite a dentist. You haven’t performed a root canal on me, which helps.’
‘You have to save some surprises for the second date,’ Walker said and Natalie laughed. She liked Walker and could see similarities between the pair of them.
‘I haven’t been married, but I am recently single,’ she told him. ‘My friends think I need to start dating again. I think they’re sick of me taking up space on their sofas and eating all their chocolate. They’re totally selfish, obviously.’
‘My sister insists on feeding me. She thinks I’ll starve to death without my ex-wife cooking for me, which is crazy as my ex couldn’t boil an egg. My freezer is now stuffed with casseroles and curry sauces.’
‘Sounds delicious.’ There was a lonely Bolognese-for-one in Natalie’s freezer. Why hadn’t she been blessed with a concerned, over-feeding sister instead of the nit-picking, joy-vacuum she’d been lumbered with? Jayne’s idea of sisterly concern was telling Natalie she’d put on weight every time they met.
‘It really is,’ Walker said. ‘My sister’s a fantastic cook. She’s the only one who can get my daughters to eat vegetables.’ Walker’s eyes widened as he clamped a hand over his mouth.
‘You have children?’
Walker winced and nodded his head. ‘Two girls, six and four. I wasn’t supposed to mention them either. They’ll apparently put women off as much as the divorce, but they’re part of me. I can’t hide them.’
‘You shouldn’t,’ Natalie said. ‘The right woman won’t be put off that you’re a father.’
‘Does it put you off?’ Walker asked, but the bell rang out, signalling the end of their date and she didn’t get the chance to answer.
Part One  | Part Two  | Part Three | Part Four  | Part Five

About The Little Teashop of Broken Hearts
From fairy cakes to first dates!

Maddie Lamington’s dreams are crumbling around her. If she doesn’t come up with a plan to save her little teashop on Sweet Street soon, it might be too late…

So when she sees how the perfect apple crumble brings together her lonely father and faithful customer Birdie, inspiration strikes: she’ll set up a dating night involving all her sweetest bakes.

Luckily, seriously gorgeous Caleb is on hand to help sprinkle a little magic – and a lot of sugar! Could one night of scrumptious first dates fix Maddie’s heartbreak and save her beloved teashop, too?

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