This year i entered the Mogford Prize. In conjunction with the Oxford Literary Festival and the Financial Times, the brief is to write a short piece, either fact or fiction, as long as it has something to do with food and/or drink. Sadly, i didn’t win. There were over 400 applicants! Here is my story of a chance encounter…
I fell at his feet…
Valerie skipped her way around the puddles along New Street, making sure not to ruin her new peep-toe sandals. She was nervously excited about tonight, and was cursing at herself for not leaving work on time.
She felt her pocket buzzing. Trying to clutch her handbag and umbrella in one hand, she finally grabbed her phone and flipped it open. She shoved the phone in between her chin and her shoulder.
“Hello? Kate? I’m nearly there. Have you grabbed a table?”
Valerie stopped in her tracks and dropped the umbrella, letting huge splodges of rain splash onto her fringe.
“What do you mean you’re not coming? Can’t you tell the office you promised your best friend a girly night out tonight?”
Her handbag slipped out of her fingers and crashed into a puddle on the pavement, splashing dirty London water up her beautiful beige Zara skirt. Valerie sighed to her herself. Of course, she thought. Just my luck.
“No, no problem Kate. Let’s try and catch up at the weekend. Don’t stay too late, okay? Text me later.”
Valerie was really looking forward to this evening. Since moving to London she had really not been able to meet people easily, let alone any men. She sighed to herself. Oh well, she thought. Another night in front of the television with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
She bent down, shoved her phone into the side pocket of her bag, picked it up and swiveled it around, hoping for a drying windmill effect. The rain was getting harder and she was almost outside the doors of Squared. She could almost feel the dry and warm of the bar. It was rather tempting, and she desperately needed to dry off.
Taking a deep breath, she picked up her umbrella and pushed open the double doors. The hustle and bustle of post-work London always made her smile. She loved being in the city in the run up to summer. Everyone was still wearing lots of lovely layers, and she had enjoyed many an evening with Kate watching people from all different backgrounds arriving from work, peeling off their coats and jackets, ready to begin their evening.
As Valerie looked up and smiled about her people-watching skills, she didn’t quite see how high the second step into the bar entrance was, skimmed her new cobalt blue peep-toe and went flying, putting her hands out in front of her to cushion her fall.
“Aaaaaargh!” was the only sound that emerged from her lips. Valerie opened her eyes, looked into the bar at over twenty onlookers and was glad that she hadn’t let out a swear word. She had a sudden fear run through her entire body and put her arms behind her and down the back of her legs.
Sighing deeply, she thanked her lucky stars that she had landed flat out on her front with her skirt covering her backside, and also her modesty. Where were her handbag and her brolly? Val scraped herself off the floor and brushed down her skirt. Looking around desperately for her belongings, she turned back to see a rather handsome looking chap, handbag dangling from his fingers and her umbrella hooked over his forearm.
“Looking for these?”
Valerie hoped she didn’t have her mouth wide open. “Umm yes, thanks.” Blushing, Valerie smiled and swept her damp hair out of her face. “Thank you for picking them up, err…?”
The stranger smiled back. “Oh, sorry, it’s Sean. Are you okay? You took a really hard fall there.”
“Well, I think I’m okay. Wouldn’t mind getting out of this entrance and from the view of my audience!” she nodded in the direction of the bar.
Sean looked in the same direction and smiled. “Yeah good idea. Think you’ve entertained everyone enough for this evening! You look like you need a drink. Let me get you something from the bar. Glass of wine?”
It didn’t take long for Valerie to answer. It was just what she needed. “Oh that would be lovely. Let me just pop to the ladies room and freshen myself up and I’ll come back and join you. Okay? Anything white and dry is good with me. Be back in a minute!” she turned on her heels, got to the door, and had to return back to the blonde god.
She tapped him on the shoulder. “Erm, could I have my handbag please?” she whispered. Sean span round on his heels, showing Valerie his deep blue eyes. She gasped. Sean smiled at her and handed it to her. “Oh god, yeah sorry!”
She smiled again, grabbed her bag and skipped off to the bathrooms. Pushing open the door to the ladies’, she took one look at herself in the mirror and laughed. What a day to meet a tall handsome stranger, she thought. With wet frizzy red curls and some lip-gloss smeared across her cheek, she tried her best to clean herself up with paper towels and make herself presentable.
Before she returned to the bar, she took a deep breath and held her head up high. Looking around, she saw Sean waving from a small round table. She stepped over towards him. Sean held out a huge glass of wine. “I think, my dear, this is yours. But before you take it, can you tell me your name, oh daredevil of Squared?”
“Oh of course! It’s Valerie. And thank you, oh handsome rescuer.”
Valerie took the glass and sat down at the table. She placed her bag by her chair and smiled up at him. “So what brings you here, and am I keeping you from someone?”
“Well” Said Sean “First off, you think I’m handsome, so I don’t think you could keep me from anyone, and second, my friend Craig has blown me off for a chick, so I was just about to leave to go home when you literally fell at my feet! So I’m all yours, you lucky thing! Now have you eaten? I’ve heard that this place has some amazing food, i’m normally a burger man but I may dare to try something different as this is an impromptu date…” Sean flashed his beaming white smile.
Valerie didn’t have the heart to tell him she was a restaurant critic. “Yeah, why not. Why don’t you order for me? It’s not often I fall at the feet of a smartly dressed Australian hunk.”
Sean didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was actually from New Zealand. “Perfect. Craig’s loss is my gain. I’ll just grab a menu. Hey hang on, were you meeting someone before you ‘fell’ for me? Ha.”
“Similar kind of story here too. My friend Kate couldn’t make it, so I was just coming in to dry off before I went home. Order away!”
Sean reached out to some menus, precariously placed on the next table. He opened one and scanned it, from left to right, with a concentrated look on his face.
After a while, Valerie smiled and put her finger to the top of the menu and pushed it down. She was dying to intervene. She knew they served some succulent pan-seared scallops. Oh god, she thought, she couldn’t even think about food without giving it a critic-worthy adjective.
“Found anything good, handsome?” Valerie winked.
Sean looked uncomfortable and gave her an uneasy smile. “Well, miss Valerie. After long deliberation I can tell you that the burger is still the best option.”
Valerie nodded. “Well, Mr Sean. I think you may be right. Two burgers it is. I’ll have mine medium rare with some blue cheese please.”
Sean stood up, showing his height and VERY broad shoulders, Valerie thought.
“Right. Two burgers it is. I’ll order at the bar. Be right back!”
As Valerie watched him walk away from the table, she couldn’t believe her luck. A chance meeting with a perfect stranger who is this good-looking and this polite? People don’t ever get this lucky with real blind dates. She delved in her handbag – now dried off and with a wonky look to it, where it must have slid across the floor and bashed into a wall. She took out her hand mirror and looked at her face.
Her once tamed tresses were now frizzy from the rain. Nothing that she can do now, she thought. She’ll just have to impress this gorgeous Australian with her winning smile and personality….
Sean was striding back to the table as she put her mirror away. As she sat down, Val thought he looked even better than she remembered when he walked away.
“Well hi again, fiery red head. Were you about to call someone to get you away from me? At least wait for the burgers!” He took a swig from his glass of wine.
“So tell me, what do you do in this big bad city?”
She just couldn’t tell him the truth, not just yet.
“Err, well I’m a – a journalist. I write a few different things. What do you do?”
Sean put down his glass. “Aaah well that’s where I’m boring. I work in the city in a bank. Boooring. Let’s talk more about you. What kind of things do you write?”
Oh god. How was she going to make up something? She felt her top lip starting to sweat.
“Hi guys. Two burgers. Who’s having the blue cheese?”
Phew. Saved by the waitress. Valerie put her hand up.
“Um that’s me thank you.”
The waitress put both plates down. She looked at Valerie. “Would you like any sauces? Oh hi Miss Swift, I didn’t know you were in tonight!”
“Errr, no, no sauces thanks. Bye!”
The waitress looked confused and wandered off. Valerie turned to Sean, who also looked confused.
“Wait, what’s going on? How does she know you?”
Valerie shrugged. “I dunno, been in her a few times. Actually do you think you could go and get me some pepper?”
Sean got up. “Yeah sure. Back in a sec.”
Valerie blew out her cheeks. She said under her breath “Why oh why do I do this every time?”
She was so nervous with new people, especially new men that she met, that she always decided that she wasn’t ready to tell them about her successful career as she thought she would put them off, make them feel threatened. No, she thought. This was a time to change. This chance encounter was a great time to start being honest with herself and Sean.
Sean was making his way back with a huge pepper mill. Right, she thought. Tell him.
As Valerie stood up, she said “Sean, there’s something I need to…” She looked down and saw the wet patch her umbrella had left on the floor, just as Sean lost his footing on the puddle and crashed down, landing at her feet.
He looked up, pepper mill safely in hand. “What were you saying?”
Valerie looked down, smiling. “I need to tell you something