Monday, 24 April 2017

Five Dates: Fairy Cakes

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

Natalie placed a hand on her stomach, grimacing as she looked around the room. This was a bad idea. She shouldn’t have allowed her friends to talk her into it, but she’d always been a bit of a pushover, especially when it came to making life decisions. It’s why she’d ended up moving in with Hugh after just three months, even though she’d known it was a terrible idea that could only end in tears. And, unfortunately, they’d been hers.
But no, this wasn’t about Hugh. This was a fresh start. The chance to meet new people. Of the male variety.
Natalie clutched her stomach again. It wasn’t butterflies in there, fluttering around, mingling joy with nerves. It was bees. Big, fat bastard bees, buzzing around with menace and malicious intentions. She looked around the room again, focusing on the women. There were four of them, all taller than her, oozing a confidence she couldn’t even fake, all utterly beautiful and stylish. Natalie felt a bit frumpy compared to them, even though she’d been brave with her choice of dress. She was usually a wraparound kind of girl. A loose (in the fabric sense) and twirly sort, but that evening she’d slipped into a figure-hugging, cleavage-hinting type of dress, fiery red in colour and clinging to mid-thigh. But she may as well have been sporting a nun’s habit compared to the others. They all seemed to be wearing dresses with the dimensions of a tea towel.
This was a mistake. She should just go home. Go home and sit on the sofa with her mum, watching ancient gameshows that were being repeated for the millionth time, and working her way through a family-sized Fruit and Nut.
The Fruit and Nut didn’t sound so bad, actually …
‘Okay, the first dessert is ready,’ the hostess announced. ‘If the ladies could sit at the table matching their badge number, we’ll get started.’
The other four women dived at the tables, adjusting skirt hems (wriggling them up, not down as Natalie thought they should) and fluffing hair as they sat, already pouting at the small group of men hovering on the sidelines. Natalie hadn’t looked too closely at the blokes yet, but she’d have to face each of them very soon.
‘Everything okay?’ The hostess had made her way towards Natalie, placing a gentle hand on her arm.
Natalie nodded. It was easier to go along with it all now, rather than fleeing and making a scene. She shuffled towards the only vacant table and sat down before the blokes descended, each taking their place opposite one of the women. Natalie was forced to finally pay attention to the male participant sitting across from her. He was smartly dressed, with a navy suit and stripy tie, and she couldn’t help noticing how neat his fingernails were. Short and square with a tiny sheen to them, Natalie guessed they’d been on the receiving end of a manicure.
She wasn’t too sure how she felt about that.
‘Hello.’ He smiled at her, displaying a set of neat, white teeth. ‘I’m Saul. Pleased to meet you.’ He held out a hand, which Natalie took, giving it a brief shake before shoving her non-manicured hands back under the table.
‘Hello, Saul. I’m Natalie.’ She offered a shy smile. As she’d suspected all along, she was crap at this. She never should have listened to Gina and Jade. They’d meant well when they’d signed her up for the speed-dating-with-a-difference event, but Natalie was completely out of her comfort zone.
‘What a beautiful name,’ Saul said. ‘Do you know what it means?’
Natalie shook her head, her brow slowly furrowing. ‘I haven’t the foggiest.’
‘It’s an interest of mine, you see.’ Saul clasped his hands together and rested them on the table. ‘Names and their meanings. Saul means asked or prayed for, which is quite nice, don’t you think?’
‘Um, yes.’ Natalie nodded, relieved when a waitress appeared, placing a plate before each of them. The difference with the speed-dating-with-a-difference was cake. The event was taking place in a café, with five dates, five miniature desserts, and fifteen minutes to chat and see if you’re compatible with your partner. At the end of the evening, each participant would fill out a scorecard, placing a tick next to any or all of the people they'd like to see again. The host would then compare scores and contact any matches so they could arrange a second date.
‘Thank you.’ Saul nodded at the waitress before nudging the plate ever so slightly so that it sat directly in the centre of his half of the table. On the plate was a mini fairy cake, covered in white icing and rainbow sprinkles. It was cute, reminding Natalie of being a little girl, and she found herself relaxing.
‘How old are you, Saul?’ Natalie took a quick glance along the row of men. They all appeared to be around her age, give or take a year or two, but Saul seemed older. Perhaps it was the suit. Or the way he held himself so straight and poised, as though he had a pole stuck down the back of his jacket.
‘I’ll be thirty in seven weeks.’ Saul picked up his mini fairy cake, turning it this way and that, as though trying to gauge how to eat it. ‘How old are you? Or should I guess?’ Saul popped his cake back down on the plate and stared across the table at Natalie, his eyes intently roaming across her face. Natalie didn’t feel entirely comfortable under the scrutiny, so she dropped her gaze to the fairy cake in front of her, busying herself by peeling the paper case away from the sponge.
‘I’m twenty-eight.’ She sneaked a look up at Saul, who was frowning.
‘You didn’t give me the chance to guess. I was going to plump for thirty-six.’
‘Then I’m glad I stopped you before you could offend me.’ Natalie had been joking, but Saul didn’t pick up on this.
‘Age is just a number, Natalie. You shouldn’t feel hung up on it. We all get older, but hopefully we learn and experience new things along the way.’
Natalie wasn’t hung up on aging, but she decided it was best to let it go and move the date along.
‘What do you do?’
Saul pushed his plate to one side as Natalie picked up her fairy cake and sank her teeth into the soft sponge. ‘I’m a head teacher.’
Natalie raised her eyebrows, her surprise showing as she chewed furiously on the fairy cake. ‘Wow,’ she said when she’d swallowed. ‘That’s quite young to be a head teacher, isn’t it?’
Saul raised his own eyebrows. ‘There you go with the age thing again.’
‘I didn’t mean …’ Natalie shook her head. ‘Never mind. Do you like being a head teacher?’
Saul clasped his hands on the table again and tilted his head to one side. ‘It’s extremely rewarding, but a great responsibility, also. You have these young lives in the palm of your hands. You’re responsible for shaping their futures, for ensuring they forge ahead in life with a healthy attitude for work, for humanity, for themselves. Every day is different. Every child is different.’
Natalie bit into her fairy cake again as Saul went on and on about his job – the highs and lows of teaching, of the curriculum, of society, even. She finished the fairy cake without getting a word in, licking the icing from her fingers as Saul concluded her simple question with a bullet-point list of reasons to go into teaching. He was still listing the pros of his profession as their plates were taken away and the bell rang out to signal the end of the first round of dates. It was only as Saul seated himself at the next table that she realised he hadn’t bothered to ask her what she did for a living.
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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