By Eithne Cullen
The theme of beginnings and endings carries on in our pages for the start of 2024 and, with St Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought I’d have a look at some beginnings which tie in with February’s romantic theme.
If, like me, you watched the rom-com The Holiday this Christmas, last Christmas or every Christmas, you’ll have picked up the expression: ‘meet cute’ which describes the way romantic characters meet in fiction and in film. This got me thinking about romantic meet-ups. There are all kinds of stories of people booking the same holiday cottages, inheriting properties (bakeries feature large!), with conflicting ideas of keeping them or selling them, arguing over a dog walker’s clumsiness, missing the boat when their children are meant to be going on a trip, and so on and so forth. Blind dates and internet matches can also throw up some interesting scenarios.
Deputy Editor Claire Buss has shared a story with us which looks at a relationship starting via online dating.
Likes. Ruby’s finger tapped on the table. What else could she put? Filling in the online dating application had been pretty straightforward so far. She’d uploaded a couple of her best photographs, age and location, no problem. What she did for a living, easy. But she couldn’t think of anything else to put in the likes box. Maybe she should expand on what was already there? Fingertips hovered over slightly sticky keys for a moment. No, no. It was self explanatory. Right, what was next? Ah, dislikes. Her friend Maria had warned her not to include all her dislikes, just pick the top three. And it wasn’t even difficult to choose those. Feeling rather pleased with herself, Ruby clicked the submit button and that was it, her profile was live.
Two weeks later and Ruby was enjoying her usual breakfast while checking her notifications. Despite what Maria had told her, she was getting quite a few clicks on her dating profile. Some unnecessary comments, but she’d been prepared for that. She wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but there was no need for rudeness. There was a report button for offensive content and, while it hadn’t got that far yet, Ruby was prepared to do just that. In fact, she should be congratulated for her restraint in not replying.
A month later, Ruby received some photos that made her feel uncomfortable. They were asking her to accept an alternative viewpoint, to try something new. Going on a dating app was something new! Putting herself out there was something new. Why did she need to keep trying ‘something new’? What if they came and tried what she had to offer? She was sure it would be better than anything they’d ever had before. After all, Ruby had had years of practice.
Two months down the line and Ruby had agreed to meet with one of her regular ‘interacters’ on the app. They were going to meet at the Good Food Show. It seemed like a safe space. Lots of people. The opportunity for sampling if desired. They had a plan, they were both going to bring it and dazzle the other. This was a chance for Ruby to prove she had the stuff. To shine. She was really nervous. So nervous, she’d nearly had a calamitous fall in the kitchen, nearly breaking things, as she was dithering. It wasn’t that far a drive and her goods would be perfectly safe. The next question was what she should wear to bring them out, to enhance naturally what she had.
It was the day of the meet. Ruby was so nervous she could feel her knees knocking. They were to meet under the preserves sign. Looking up at the juicy oranges glinting in the bright show lights of the NEC, Ruby took it as a good sign. Patting her curly orange hair, she adjusted her orange spectacles and smoothed down the front of her 60s-style white dress, patterned with oranges. Her feet encased in a smart pair of patent orange heels. It had taken her a long time to find those.
“Yes?” She whirled around, taking pleasure in the swish of her skirt and the citrus waft of her perfume and held out a perfectly orange manicured hand.
“Wow. That’s a look.” A man in ordinary jeans and an ordinary T-shirt with ordinary hair took her hand limply and gave it a waggle. “I thought it was just an online joke.”
“The whole marmalade thing. I figured it was just a gimmick.”
Ruby pressed a hand to her chest, feeling the usual panic begin to rise.
“But we talked, we connected. You said marmalade on toast was your favourite breakfast.”
The man looked at her.
“If I’m honest, I prefer strawberry jam.”
Ruby’s legs buckled and she plopped down on the edge of the preserves stage, the jars of marmalade she’d bought with her clinking inside their orange bag.
“Look, I don’t think this is going to work out. Er… take care, yeah?” The man walked away.
Ruby watched as he was met by a group of friends. The man pointed back at her and gave a little shrug. There were a few stares and frowns but finally they walked away.
Gathering her precious jars of marmalade, Ruby slowly walked out of the exhibition hall, given a wide berth by the other visitors. She just didn’t understand. She’d been very clear on her profile.
Name: Ruby Marmalade
Profession: Professional Marmalade Tester
Works At: Ruby’s Marmalades
Dislikes: Toast crumbs in marmalade. Butter in marmalade. Strawberry jam.
© Claire Buss, 2023
Another Claire, this time our short story writer Claire Buckle, has shared some beginnings from her published short stories for us. Claire doesn’t really write romantic fiction, but her stories have touches of family, relationships and real lives. I hope you enjoy these two.
The first is called All On Board. It appeared in Woman’s Weekly and begins with a couple experiencing conflict:
Lily squelched through the mud in her Wellingtons, following Tom as he strode towards the dilapidated boat. He’d spotted it a few minutes ago, lopsided on the sludge, a few metres from the bank of the Hollyhill estuary.
“This is supposed to be an afternoon stroll, not a mission to investigate some old cabin cruiser,” Lily said, watching her boyfriend run his hand over the hull’s flaking paint.
And the second is from a story called Out Of Tune, which was featured in My Weekly:
“Look at this one,” James said. He passed the tablet to Patrice, sitting next to him on the sofa.
A thriller that had hooked her from the first episode played on the TV and she wished James, her partner of three years, would share her enthusiasm for the series. But over the past few days, all he’d binged on were property websites. With a resigned sigh, she glanced at the photo of a thatched cottage without swiping to view the interior. “I don’t want to move to the middle of nowhere,” Patrice said, giving the tablet back.
“Don’t exaggerate. The station’s only a couple of miles away. Why don’t we book a viewing?”
She paused the programme. “I just don’t see the point.” And yet, deep down, she knew renting was a waste of money.
And here’s a piece from Hongwei Bao, highlighting the power of pets that can bring about a meeting… a friendship or is it a ‘meet cute’?
Dogs On The Bus
Two dogs boarded the bus with their owner, a middle-aged man in a T-shirt and shorts.
They were big, black dogs, perhaps Labradors, looking docile and friendly.
Beware of paws and tails, warned the bus driver. The passengers couldn’t help
But touch the dogs, stroking their ears, with encouraging nods from the owner.
A boy curled up in his seat, before an old woman encouraged him to lay his hand
On one of the dogs’ back. In no time the dog was enjoying the boy’s pampering.
Another dog lay down on the floor, legs stretched, oblivious of the utility of the aisle. Passengers getting on and off the bus had to hop across, as if doing sports.
Meanwhile, those of us on the bus, who had once been total strangers, started to talk
To one another, praising how well-behaved those dogs were, sharing information
About dog breeds, dog food, dog grooming and their dog-keeping experiences.
The quiet carriage suddenly became a dog lovers’ social club. As for the dogs,
They lay on the floor, ears erect and alert, trying to figure out what was happening
Around them, what people were talking about, and how strange human beings are.
© Hongwei Bao, 2023
Connect with Hongwei on X: @PatrickBao1
We finish off with another meeting, this time by Rebecca Seaton:
In some ways, she was exactly as I expected and yet… she was both more and less. Her face glowed with a freshness that spoke of her youth but her eyes were wells of understanding beyond her years. Her smooth brow creased as we spoke but left no wrinkles there, only the disappearing lines of confusion and wonder, fading even as her brown eyes widened. She brushed a strand of hair from her eyes; no grey there on this day.
She shook a little and I felt for her but did not fear she would fall. I knew she was too strong for that. I saw the slight young body that everyone saw but I could see more than that: the strength and power in a body that could house redemption, as well as the furrows her future pain would cause her. She was innocent and simple; in many ways, she was less than what I had been asked to find. Despite that, there was also so much more in what she was and what could yet be hers.
© Rebecca Seaton, 2023
It sounds like a fascinating introduction to a character; I’d love to know where that story goes…
It’s great meeting new people and starting new friendships and relationships. I hope your meetings and beginnings all go well!
Issue 19 of Write On! is available to read online here.
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A ‘meet cute’ describes the way romantic characters meet in fiction and in film.