A short cosy story with a happy end…
Imogen went to open the dishwasher to put her empty cereal bowl in, then remembered she didn’t have a dishwasher anymore. The six-bedroom house she’d lived in, and loved, for the last twenty years during her marriage to George had all the modcons. But since his affair with his secretary (why did he have to be so obvious!) and their subsequent divorce, he’d insisted on selling the house.
Little had she known at that time that the business was failing and debts had been building up. After the sale of the house everything they’d owned had been paid back, leaving very little to split between them. Now, here she was in a small rented flat with only herself for company.
She felt the familiar sting of tears, and batted it away. She abandoned her bowl in the sink to wash up later. She couldn’t risk being late for work on her first day.
She glanced longingly at her Ford Fiesta as she walked past it. It was a miserable January morning and she was tempted to jump in and drive to avoid the twenty-minute walk in the rain, but now she was having to fend for herself, money was tight, and petrol didn’t come cheap. She squinted against the driving rain, and forced herself to get on with the walk.
The closer she got to Sheila’s Cafe, the more the nerves clawed at her. She hadn’t worked since becoming pregnant with Jody a year into their marriage. Then Ben followed soon after, and she’d never even thought about returning to work. George said it was important she was there for the kids and she’d agreed. By the time they’d become old enough to fend for themselves, the world had moved on and her skills were outdated. She couldn’t have re-started a career even if she wanted to.
But now needs must, and the only employer who hadn’t regarded her with either distaste or pity was Sheila, the nice smiley lady who owned the local cafe round the corner from her new flat. It wasn’t going to make her rich, but she didn’t need a fortune as long as she could cover her bills. Now the kids had both flown the nest, George didn’t have to pay her much, so she was on her own for the first time in her life. Just her. Just Imogen.
Her breathing was heavy by the time she arrived at the cafe. Her married life had been admittedly luxurious, and she’d barely had to walk anywhere. The downside was that her waist had thickened over the years, but George always said he liked curvy women.
“So how come he chose Davina, the size six stick insect, to have an extramarital with?”, she said to herself through gritted teeth.
‘“Talking to yourself, love?’” Sheila appeared from the kitchen.
“Oh, sorry, I was just putting the world to rights.”
“You’ll get on fine here, then,” laughed Sheila. “The customers love a bit of a natter.”
The work was hard, and Imogen’s legs ached by the end of the day, but she felt strangely elated when it was time to go home. The day had flown by. She’d enjoyed serving and chatting to the customers, and had even noticed the man with the kind brown eyes looking at her.
After a few weeks, she was slowly starting to settle in to her new single life. She’d had to make changes, such as shopping at the budget supermarket rather than her usual upmarket one, but she found it didn’t really make a difference to her quality of life. Walking to work every day had even meant she’d lost weight. There was no danger of her becoming a size six, but at least her trousers fitted better these days. And she could eat what she liked without worrying about George’s fussiness.
The kind-eyed man came into the cafe several times a week, and always gave her a bright smile and the warmest thanks when she took his slice of cake over.
‘“Steve likes you,” said Sheila, nodding over at where he sat.
“Don’t be silly, he’s just being friendly,” Imogen replied, although could feel her cheeks flushing.
“He deserves to meet someone nice like you. His wife left him years ago. Don’t think he’s had any romance since. Shame, he’s a lovely man.”
Imogen glanced over, and Steve’s eyes twinkled back at her. She looked away, embarrassed.
The next day he came in the cafe later than usual, and was still there when it was time for Imogen to go home. She was just about to leave when she heard a voice.
“Erm, excuse me.”
She turned and realised it was Steve addressing her.
‘“I wondered if you’d like to have dinner with me one day.”
Flustered, Imogen muttered an excuse about not liking to eat out, and quickly let herself out of the door. She cursed herself all the way home. She had really wanted to accept Steve’s invitation, so why hadn’t she? And to make some stupid excuse about not liking restaurants! He must have thought her so rude. She cringed at the thought.
Decades of been George’s wife had eroded her confidence. She thought she’d been been happy with him, but a month on her own and she realised the real Imogen had been stifled in their marriage. She was starting to get to know herself again, but wasn’t yet at the stage she had the confidence to go on a date. Would she ever be?
She sighed and let herself into her flat. It was humble but comfortable. She’d filled it with the things she loved. It had been refreshing, not having to worry about what anyone else thought when she decorated, not like in their old home when George had liked everything to match perfectly. Imogen preferred a more homely, higgledy-piggledy style.
If she was honest with herself, living alone wasn’t turning out quite as bad as she’d feared. She loved her job at Sheila’s and was getting to know some of the regulars, but when she got home the nights were long and lonely. Jody and Ben were busy with their own lives, and the friends she’d socialised with when she’d been married seemed to be avoiding her, as if things were awkward now she wasn’t part of a couple.
She settled down on the sofa with a glass of wine and a cheese straw left over from the cafe. She used to love cooking but there didn’t seem to be any point now it was just her. She sighed. Another Friday night alone with the TV for company.
She was just dropping off in front of the latest celebrity fly-on-the-wall documentary when the sound of the doorbell startled her. Who was that at this hour? It was past seven O’clock, and she barely got any visitors these days even during daylight hours.
Jody stood at the doorway, suitcase in hand. Tears were streaming down her face. “I’ve fallen out with Jenny, Mum. Being her flatmate is a total nightmare. Can I stay here with you for a while please? Just while I find a new place.”
“Of course you can, darling!’” Imogen said, pulling her daughter in for a tight hug. She’d just finished making Jody a mug of cocoa, which seemed to cheer her up no end, when the doorbell rang again.
“Mum, do you mind if I stay for the weekend? I needed to get away from uni for a couple of days. And I’ve missed your cooking. I never thought I’d say I’m sick of junk food, but, well, I guess I am.”
She ruffled Ben’s hair like she used to when he was little. “Of course you can, love, come on in.”
An hour later, Imogen smiled as she looked at her grown-up children on the sofa laughing at a comedy together. She was just wondering how to make a decent dinner for three out of her stock of microwave meals when the doorbell rang again.
She opened the door and was met was a handsome man with twinkly brown eyes. “Steve. What are you doing here?”
“Sheila told me where you lived. I hope you don’t mind, but when you said you didn’t like eating out, I thought you might prefer to eat dinner in.” He held up two plastic bags bursting with cartons that smelt spicy and delicious.
“That’s so kind, Steve,” she said, touched at his thoughtfulness. “But I’m afraid I can’t. My two children are here visiting.” Although she was delighted Ben and Jody were there, she was surprised how disappointed she was to turn Steve away.
“There’s more than enough for four,” he said. “I didn’t know what you liked, so I got a selection.” His hopeful expression quickly faded. “But don’t worry if you’re too busy. Sorry, I shouldn’t have turned up unannounced.” He turned to leave.
“No,” she said, quickly, gesturing for him to come in. “Please stay, that would be nice.”
Ben and Jody were quiet at first but Steve soon started chatting to Ben about football, which broke the ice, and Jody seemed to relax once Steve told a funny story about a flatsharing disaster he’d experienced as a young man.
Steve had even even brought a couple of bottles of wine with him. George would never have done that, thought Imogen. Food and shopping had always been left to her in their marriage. Steve poured wine into her glass, and she smiled. She never imagined she’d find herself middle-aged, divorced and working in a cafe, but now she was, she realised she hadn’t been this happy for a long time.
“Steve”, she said, as he was leaving. “I was nervous earlier at the cafe when you asked me out. I love restaurants, and I’d love to accept your invitation, if it still stands that is.”
He bent down to give her a peck on the cheek. “It certainly does. How about Thursday evening?”
“Can’t wait,” she said, and when she closed the door behind him she grinned, realising she really couldn’t.