Cwtch me if you can, p.1
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       Cwtch Me If You Can, p.1

           Beth Reekles
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Cwtch Me If You Can


  Cwtch Me If You Can

  Beth Reekles

  Alex considers herself the ultimate romantic, and Valentine’s Day is her favourite day of the year - until her boyfriend chooses that day to break up with her.

  Heartbroken and angry, Alex swears off guys. But that’s easier said than done when she keeps bumping into smart and sexy Sean. After all - there’s no such thing as fate... right?

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Epilogue

  Chapter One

  Tonight is perfect.

  The lighting in Bella Italia is soft and warm, and even though our table is rickety, and my pasta was only lukewarm, tonight is just perfect. At least, I think it is. Will keeps fidgeting, like he’s nervous, and looking at his watch or around at everyone else.

  But, I tell myself, I can’t blame him for being distracted. There’s a lot to look at. It is Valentine’s Day, after all, and the restaurant is packed with couples out for a romantic meal together. Most of them are as young as we are.

  I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day – the grand gestures to show someone just how much you love them, the ‘I love yous’… I smile at Will, thinking how much I love him.

  The waiter comes over to ask if we’d like a dessert menu. I open my mouth to say yes, but Will gets there first.

  ‘No, thanks. We’re good.’

  I try not to let my disappointment show. Maybe Will just has other plans for us and doesn’t want to hang around much longer. I bite back a smile, letting my mind wander.

  Will clears his throat, like he has something serious to say, and I sit up straighter. Since we started dating, Will’s been pretty big on romantic gestures – but he’s always excited about them. Never serious. Serious makes me nervous.

  I study my boyfriend’s face, worry pricking my stomach – suddenly, my spaghetti carbonara isn’t sitting so well. Will’s brown eyes are looking at the scratch on the table his short fingers are tracing, and his eyebrows are drawn together, tense. His shoulders move up and down and he shifts in his seat.

  Has he forgotten his wallet? Maybe he has, and he’s worried I’ll be upset when he asks me to pay for our romantic meal instead, when he’d promised me that this was his treat.

  I couldn’t be mad about that. This is Will. I love him. We’ve been going out since we met in September – we were both at the same club, huddled against a wall near the bar because we didn’t really like that kind of scene. Our shared hatred of grinding with the other drunk, sweaty people gave us something to talk about – and we hit it off straight away. We’ve been together ever since.

  Aside from how much we have in common, Will’s a decent-looking guy. He’s got long eyelashes most girls would kill for, and thick blonde hair that sweeps over his face like a guy from a Hollister advert. Although he’s not really built like a guy from a Hollister advert.

  Will has to know I won’t be upset with him for forgetting his wallet.

  But as I see how stressed-out and uncomfortable he looks, I start to realise that this is something more serious than him not being able to pay on Valentine’s Day.

  I bring up a hand to fiddle with the necklace he gave me at Christmas – a slim silver chain with a sterling-silver heart pendant. My heart is in my throat.

  ‘Will,’ I say, my voice coming out choked, like I’m about to cry. ‘What’s going on?’

  He sighs. It’s a long, tired sigh that fills me with dread.

  ‘Um…’

  ‘Will, just tell me. Whatever it is, I’m sure I can handle it. It’ll be fine.’ Panic makes my words run together, but I think he understands me.

  He’s shaking his head. ‘This… this is really difficult for me to tell you, Alex, you have to understand that. And I’m – I’m really sorry to have to do this, but… well, I can’t do this any more. It’s not fair to lead you on.’

  Lead me on?

  Oh, God, I think, he isn’t… is he?

  But he is.

  He’s breaking up with me.

  On Valentine’s Day.

  Will carries on, but through the blood rushing in my ears, his voice sounds distant. He says how he doesn’t feel things are working out between us, that he doesn’t see us going anywhere or having much of a future. He says that he knows this must be hard for me to hear, because he knows how much I like him – and he likes me, too…

  ‘I thought you loved me,’ I interrupt, my voice a broken whisper. I’ve been staring blankly at Will as he’s been talking, but now I blink, and bring him back into focus. ‘I love you. And you’ve been saying it to me for months.’

  ‘Well…’ He clears his throat and pulls at his shirt collar. It’s a shirt I bought him for Christmas. ‘I – I thought I did, Alex, but I just… can’t see us working out. I’m sorry. I don’t think it’s fair to lead you on,’ he tells me again.

  ‘Is there someone else?’

  The look on his face tells me everything.

  ‘Oh my God,’ I groan, dropping my head into my hands.

  His face turns solemn and intense, and his words are frantic.

  ‘I haven’t been cheating on you. I haven’t done anything with her, but I - well, I really like her, Alex. I met her at that job interview I went to a couple of weeks ago. You know, the one at the telecom I didn’t get? She’s so funny, and we both like so much of the same stuff, and…’ He trails off, obviously realising how excited he’s starting to sound, and he bites his lip.

  I narrow my eyes, pulling my hands away from my face – but being careful not to smear the eyeliner I took so much care to put on earlier this evening.

  Is he kidding me right now? Like he has nothing in common with me? Like I haven’t been dating him for the past five months?

  My boyfriend – ex-boyfriend – is an arse.

  I see him looking at his watch again.

  ‘Oh my God,’ I say, realising why he’s so agitated about what time it is. ‘You’re going to meet her, aren’t you, once you get out of here?’

  Will, at least, has the grace to blush. ‘Um, kind of…’

  ‘Go. Just – go.’ My voice cracks. I’m on the verge of tears and he will not see me crying over him. I can’t even look at him, and I don’t want to listen to his pathetic excuses any more. Will scoots his chair back slightly, the legs scraping on the floor with a sharp noise, and then he stops, halfway out of his chair, and I can feel him looking at me.

  ‘Go!’ I bark, and he’s out of the door in seconds.

  My breaths are shallow and shaky, and I know exactly what I need in such a state of distress.

  I down my half-full glass of rosé and catch the attention of the waiter who’s been serving us all night.

  ‘Can I get the Godfather ice cream sundae please? To share. But just the one spoon.’

  Mountains of ice cream and the last half of the bottle of wine later, the restaurant is mostly empty, with a few stragglers holding hands across the table and hunched over so their heads are close together, like they’re in their own little bubbles. They all look so in love and sweet.

  It makes me feel sick. And, I’m sure, that feeling has nothing to do with all the ice cream I’ve just eaten.

  I can’t deny that I’m insanely jealous of all of them.

  I mean, never mind the fact that they’re all so fricking adorable or that they’re spending the night with someone who loves them.

  None of them got dumped on Valentine’s Day.

  Seriously, I ask myself, who does that? What kind of arsehole do you have to be to brea
k up with your girlfriend on your Valentine’s date? Especially when she’s bought new lingerie for later.

  Not that Will knew I’d bought new lingerie. That was supposed to be a surprise for him.

  A couple of weeks ago he suggested that we shouldn’t do presents for today, and explained that with him ‘between jobs’ as he put it, and me working and doing classes at the college, we were better off spending our money on a nice night out instead, maybe renting a movie. Now I know better – he didn’t want to do presents because he was planning to break up with me.

  He must have been planning this for weeks. So why didn’t he do it before now? Why did he decide to do it on this, the most sacred romantic night of the year for all couples, of all nights?

  My boyfriend – ex-boyfriend, I remind myself – is obviously the worst boyfriend in the history of boyfriends.

  Maybe I should find out who this ‘other girl’ is – not to scream at her for stealing my boyfriend, but to let her know what she’s letting herself in for.

  I order another glass of rosé from a passing waitress, and she gives me a wary look before nodding and bringing me a large glass. I must look crazy, and I can only imagine what they’re all muttering about me – the poor girl sitting all on her own drinking too much wine and eating dessert for two, alone on Valentine’s, her boyfriend having walked out on her…

  They’re probably laughing at me back in the kitchen and posting about me on Facebook. They’ll probably go see their friends later and tell them all about the sad girl in the restaurant tonight who got dumped.

  Looking around again, I see the last two couples – they were double-dating – paying their bill and pulling on their coats. There’s a girl behind the bar getting the card machine for them, and my waiter is wiping down tables. Otherwise, it’s empty.

  I swirl the wine around in the glass and take a gulp. I can barely taste it any more, I’ve drunk so much of it.

  A throat clears.

  ‘Um, can I get you anything else?’ the waiter I’ve had all night asks me. My eyes can’t quite focus on him, but I discern that he’s got thick, curling brown hair and that he looks very, very sorry for me.

  I shake my head, the movement slow and making the room tilt. ‘Noooope. Nooo thank you.’

  ‘Is your uh… is your friend not coming back?’

  I snort, and then I start crying.

  It’s not even quiet crying. I’m full-on bawling, snot everywhere, and interrupted by hiccups. I snatch up my napkin from my lap, which is stained slightly with chocolate sauce from my ice cream sundae, and blow my nose, wiping away my tears. When I take away the napkin, it’s covered in dark foundation and even darker amounts of eyeliner and mascara. If the napkin looks like that, I can only imagine how bad my face looks.

  The waiter is still standing by me, holding a little black leather packet in one hand, and shifting his weight uncomfortably from foot to foot. With his free hand, he rubs the back of his neck.

  ‘What do you want?’ I ask. Actually, it sounds more like a wail.

  He holds out the leather packet. ‘It’s just that there’s the small matter of the bill…’

  ‘The bill,’ I repeat, sounding a little more normal now. ‘The bill.’

  ‘Yes…’

  ‘What’s your name?’ I slur. He did introduce himself right at the start of the evening, but I barely paid him any attention. I was too wrapped up in Will, and how much I was in love with him, and how perfect the whole night was.

  ‘I’m Sean.’

  ‘I’m Alex. Sit down, Sean.’ I pat the table across from me, where Will sat earlier. I gulp some more wine down, and lunge forward, slapping my palm down on the table in front of him. ‘Why are all guys such arseholes, Sean?’

  ‘Some guys are,’ he agrees, cautiously.

  ‘No, all guys. I’m the customer, Sean. The customer is always right. And I’m saying that all guys are arseholes.’

  ‘Um, okay.’ He puts the leather packet containing my bill down on the table, off to one side but closer to me than to him. I sniff, and wipe away a few more stray tears with the napkin. ‘Do you… do you want to talk about it?’

  ‘He broke up with me on a date. On Valentine’s Day! And then he went straight to go see this other girl he’s had his eye on for weeks. And he doesn’t even leave me twenty quid towards his half of the bill.’

  ‘Okay, he does sound like an arsehole. Worse, actually. Any guy with even a little bit of decency would at least pay the bill if he’s bringing you on a date just to break up with you.’

  ‘I know! And he was such a good guy up until now. He’d buy me flowers, just because, and we’d go try out new restaurants that he’d find, and he got me a spa treatment when I got stressed out with work, and he’d –’

  I break off, because I’ve started crying again.

  Sean the waiter leans to the next table and gets a neatly folded napkin from it, and hands it to me. I mumble a thanks, and press it to my eyes, between taking sips of wine. After a few more sips, I manage to stop crying, but the room is sliding out of focus behind Sean.

  ‘Have you got a girlfriend, Sam?’

  It sounds more like ‘Havooo gat a guuurlfren, Sam?’ but he’s polite enough not to point out how wasted I am. He does point out that I said the wrong name, though.

  ‘Sean.’

  ‘That’s what I said.’

  He decides not to argue. ‘No, I don’t.’

  ‘Well if you did, would you do that to her?’

  ‘No. I think, Alex – it was Alex, right? – that if your boyfriend was a guy like that, you’re better off without him. Really. Let this other girl have him and tell him good riddance.’

  I touch the necklace Will gave me for Christmas.

  ‘Did he give you that?’

  ‘Yep.’

  ‘You should get rid of it. That’s what people do after a bad break-up, isn’t it, they purge. They get rid of all the gifts and all the photos and stuff. It makes them feel better. You should get rid of the necklace.’

  I think immediately about the lingerie back in my room, and all the tags I cut off. They were an investment, I tell myself, and I can’t just throw them out, even if they will forever remind me of tonight.

  ‘Well, don’t get rid of them,’ Sean the waiter says, and I hear the laugh in his voice.

  I think I’m blushing from how humiliating it is that I’ve just said all that out loud, but I’m not sure. I’m too warm from all the wine so it’s hard to tell.

  ‘Just get rid of the necklace,’ he says.

  I grab the heart pendant and give it a firm yank, like I’ve seen people do in the movies – but all it does is dig into my neck. ‘Owwwww,’ I wail, dropping it and massaging the back of my neck with clumsy hands. I can hear Sean the waiter laughing at me, and glare at him.

  My lip wobbles.

  ‘Oh, please don’t start crying again,’ he says, sounding frantic.

  ‘I need a cwtch,’ I mumble, thinking about how Will won’t be cuddling me to make me feel better about all this. I just need a hug.

  ‘Um…’

  ‘I just want to go home.’

  Sean leans back. ‘Listen, Alex, I’m going to call you a taxi. How about that? And you can go straight home, take a warm bath, sober up, and sleep all of this off. And when you wake up tomorrow you can forget all about him. How does that sound? Does that sound good?’

  I nod. ‘Okay. Okay.’

  He gets up, and I hear him murmuring behind the bar, as I finish my glass of wine. A cup of tea is put down in front of me by the waitress who was hanging around, and she gives me a sympathetic look.

  ‘I’m off, Sean,’ she says.

  ‘See you tomorrow,’ he calls back to her. I sip the cup of tea, while my head spins and my mind feels foggy, until Sean puts a hand on my shoulder and says, ‘Your taxi’s here.’

  ‘Thanks.’ I get up, but between my brand-new three-inch stilettos that gave me blisters just on the walk from the bus to the restaur
ant, and the wine, I almost fall over. Sean has to catch my arm and put an arm around my waist to guide me outside. After bundling me into the back of the taxi in a tangle of limbs, heels, and handbag straps, Sean leans in to talk to the driver, and then they ask for my address. I slump in the seat after giving it, and start crying again.

  I forget to say thank you to Sean.

  When the taxi draws up outside the house I share with three other girls, and I lean forward with my purse open ready to pay, the driver tells me, ‘The lad at the restaurant already paid for it, love.’

  And that’s when I realise I hadn’t paid my bill, either.

  Chapter Two

  On Saturday morning, I wake up fully-clothed, having passed out, lying on my side on my bed. My pastel pink pillowcase is smeared with last night’s make-up. My cute red dress that I bought specially for last night’s date has ridden up so that it’s around my ribs.

  I groan, sitting up slowly and wiping a line of drool from the side of my mouth. The room pitches sideways, and I stagger into the bathroom down the hall to throw up, and then retch, until I feel a little less gross.

  I clean my teeth, wash off the makeup, change into pyjamas, and stumble back into bed to pass out for a few more hours, hoping to sleep off the hangover that’s slowly killing me.

  When I wake up again, I feel a little better – until all the memories of the previous night come flooding back to me.

  And along with it, the memory that I didn’t actually pay for the meal or the taxi.

  I should go back to Bella Italia and pay Sean back. I decide to stop by later this week, and spend the rest of the weekend only leaving my room to make cups of tea and to collect a pizza.

  Sunday evening, Cathy, my best friend, walks in without bothering to knock.

  She’s armed with two mugs of tea, and takes one look at my room – used mugs, a half-eaten large pepperoni pizza, dirty clothes scattered around, my stilettos from the other night thrown into the middle of the room… And then she looks at me.

  ‘Oh, Alex.’

  I haven’t looked in the mirror today, but I haven’t washed my hair since Friday afternoon, before the disaster that was my Valentine’s date, and I’ve not changed out of my pyjamas since Saturday morning.

 
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