‘He’s a free agent
and he’s very good looking. He has a good job, he’s charming, isn’t full of
himself and he’s happy to go on a blind date with you, even though he’s never
been on one before either. Come on Petra, give the guy a chance. What more could
you ask? We’re talking Amici’s here, not the local burger
Stella was getting
frustrated. Half an hour of gentle persuasion had got her nowhere. She moved on
What have you got to lose? Aren’t you fed up with the TV for company seven
nights a week?’
‘Let me think about
it, Stella. I’ll let you know by the weekend.’
‘No dice sister.’
Stella had her on the ropes and she wasn’t going to settle for a draw now. ‘I’m
not leaving until you agree.’
Petra threw up her
hands. ‘Oh alright, you win, but it’s your fault if it’s a disaster. Tell him
I’m okay for Saturday.’
Stella whooped and
threw her arms around her best friend. He’s a gentleman, it’s Amici’s. What
could possibly go wrong?’
Petra looked at her
watch for the twentieth time. Where was he?
He was half an hour late, and counting.
She snatched a quick
look towards the door. Nothing! She could sense that people were beginning to
take an interest in her. A woman on her own
at a table for two? They must
think I've been stood up. One or two of the
women looked at her sympathetically. That made it worse.
Petra made up her
mind to face the humiliation head on. As she picked up her bag she heard the
door crash open and a gasping male voice ask where table nine was. Thirty
seconds later he was at the table, red faced, blurting out
‘I’m so, so sorry
Petra, please forgive me. There was an accident, the traffic, I parked up and
caught the bus, got off at the wrong stop and had to run back here. I feel
terrible. If I had your mobile...’
Petra held up her
hand. ‘It’s fine Martin, honestly. I haven’t been here that long
Martin began another
volley of apologies, but Petra stopped him in mid flow and almost begged him to
sit down. She could feel the eyes of the whole restaurant on them.
This was worse than sitting here
She took him in as he
removed his overcoat. He was about thirty five, and as Stella had promised, very
good looking. He was tall, of medium build with a strong jaw and beautiful soft
blue eyes. When he spoke his voice was deep, smooth, with a maybe a hint of
Irish in there somewhere.
‘I’m very pleased to
make your acquaintance, Petra. Stella's told me so much about you.’ Martin
offered his hand across the table, caught the cut glass vase and emptied its
contents over the table cloth.
inwardly. Martin tried to mop up some of the water with his
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’
he stuttered. ‘I’m so clumsy when I’m nervous.’
Petra looked on
silently and breathed a huge sigh of relief as the waiter took control of the
situation. Martin leant back in his chair, shamefaced, as the waiter cleared up
They were offered a
new table but Petra refused in an instant. She was embarrassed enough already,
moving tables would only make them the centre of attention again. She decided to
take the initiative. Martin was obviously nervous and trying too hard to make a
success of the evening.
‘What do you do,
Martin?’ She asked, although she knew the answer before it came. Stella had
primed her with all the details.
‘I’m a garage
manager,’ he said, glad not to be taking the lead. ‘The same one Stella works
at. She’s in sales.’
Petra refrained from
saying that she knew exactly what her best friend did for a living. ‘Do you
enjoy it? Been there long?’
Martin spent the next
ten minutes telling her about how he had started as a mechanic and worked his
way through the company. He was just about to relive his job interview for the
manager’s post when the wine waiter arrived at their side. Petra looked at him
‘Red, white or pink?’
asked Martin, feeling more confident.
Petra decided on the
house Red and the waiter disappeared to see to the
Martin looked across
the table. 'Sorry about that. I always prattle on when I’m nervous. I’m not like
this normally, promise.’
'Prattle away,' she said.
The waiter returned
and showed the label to Martin before pouring a small amount into his glass.
Martin sipped it, nodded, then held up his hand as the waiter began to fill
their glasses. ‘I’ll see to that. Thanks.’
Martin stood up,
grabbed the bottle and made his way around the table in what he obviously hoped
was a sophisticated manner.
‘Wine, Madame?’ he
Petra laughed, eager
to lighten the mood. ‘Thank you, kind Sir.’
Martin poured the
wine with a flourish and theatrically pulled back the bottle. A large gush of
wine shot from its neck, splashed over the white table cloth and the front of
Petra’s cream dress.
Petra shrieked and
stood up. Martin dabbed ineffectively at the front of her dress with a napkin.
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ he stammered again. ‘I’m so sorry. What a clumsy
Petra grabbed her bag
and almost ran to the ladies room. No chance of a
dignified exit now. She tried to ignore
the chatter as she made her way across the room.
Just wait until I
catch up with you, Stella.
After doing her best
to repair the damage, Petra slunk out of the ladies room, retrieved her coat,
and sneaked out of the door. Martin was waiting outside.
He began to apologise
again but Petra interrupted.
‘Some things are just
not meant to be, Martin. Go and find your car.’
Petra turned away
quickly before he could reply. After walking five yards she almost fell headlong
as the heel of her shoe caught in the pavement and snapped. She shook her head
in disbelief and limped off towards the taxi rank half a mile across town. She
wasn’t at all surprised when the heavens opened up before she had gone a hundred
‘No, never, not
again, not ever! And this time I won’t let you talk me round.’ Petra stuck out
her jaw and put on what she hoped was a, ‘final answer,’
‘Oh, come on Petra. I know there were a few teething troubles
Petra was aghast. 'It was a disaster. I still can’t get those wine stains out of
my best dress and I can never go into that restaurant again. I’m having
nightmares about it.’
sympathetic noises. ‘I know,’ she soothed. ‘But let’s not be too hasty, you
could be onto a good thing here. He’s desperate to make it up to
Petra began to waver.
‘If, I were to agree,
there will be no restaurants, no best clothes, no wine and definitely no
silently. 'This time it will all be perfect. Trust me.'
Petra cursed as she
turned the key in the ignition for the umpteenth time. The engine made a short
whirring noise, then went quiet. Battery’s dead
now, it had to happen today of all days.
Spots of rain
appeared on the windscreen, heavy rain was forecast. Typical, just
The rain was teaming
down by the time the rescue services reached her. They had promised to be there
in thirty minutes but had taken well over an hour.
Petra watched the
mechanic as he worked on the engine, anxiety increasing with every, ‘tut,’ or
shake of his blond head. Eventually he came out from under the bonnet.
‘Electrics have gone,’ he announced.
expensive,’ Petra said.
‘Can be,’ he said.
‘It depends where the fault lies. It could just be a bad
Forty minutes later
Petra was back home, her broken down car parked outside on the road. She checked
the wall clock. Christ, he'll be here in thirty
Petra ran upstairs,
undressed quickly and had a shower. After a rubdown with the towel she slipped
into her dressing gown and plugged in her styling wand. Soft curls
tonight, nothing formal.
She had managed to do
one side of her head and half of the front when the power cut struck. Seconds
later there was a knock at the door.
Petra pushed her hair
back from her eyes, grimaced and opened the door just as Martin was about to
knock again. ‘Hi Martin, sorry, err, I’m a bit behind.’ The attempted smile
froze on her lips as a mass of hair flopped in front of her eyes. ‘Bad hair
day,’ she quipped.
Petra led Martin
through to the kitchen. ‘I can’t even offer you coffee,’ she complained. ‘We’re
in the middle of a power cut and I'm all electric.
‘Look on the bright
side,' said Martin. 'The power might be on again by the time we get back from
the theatre. Your hair looks, err, will look, nice,' he ended,
Petra headed for the
stairs. ‘Back in a few minutes, Martin. I just need to do something with this.
Make yourself at home.’
Petra hurried to the
bathroom, soaked her hair in the tepid water, then rubbed it vigorously with a
towel. She looked at the results in the mirror. Soaking wet, but
at least it hangs evenly, now.
Petra wrapped the
towel around her head and walked through to her bedroom. She opened the wardrobe
and studied its contents.
She settled on a calf
length, black lace dress with a short red jacket. After applying the minimum of
makeup and patching up her nails, she felt more or less ready to take on the
public. Her hair was still damp so she pulled on a woollen crocheted hat. In the
end she was pleasantly surprised with the results.
Martin was standing
where she had left him. ‘Ready at last, she said. 'Sorry about the
Martin walked her to
the front door and stood gallantly aside to allow her through, then stepped out
himself and pulled it shut.
'Bugger, I've left my
bag in the kitchen,' said Petra.
‘Is it such a
disaster?’ Martin asked.
Petra sighed. ‘My
house keys are in it.’
As if on cue the
power came back on and the burglar alarm went off.
One broken rear
window later, Petra and Martin were once again sat in the kitchen. Petra made
coffee while Martin cut a piece of board to temporarily fix the window square he
had just smashed.
‘I think the fates
are against us, Martin,' said Petra.
‘Martin nodded sadly.
‘We haven’t had the easiest of starts have we? Do you still want to go? We still
have time to get there.’
Petra thought for a
while then nodded. ‘Okay, let’s see what else the fates can throw our way. It's
beginning to look like a quest from a Sinbad movie.’
Martin laughed and
led her down the drive to his car. ‘Our luck must turn soon,’ he said. He looked
up to the leaden skies in mock prayer. ‘I wish this rain would stop, it’s been
coming down all afternoon.’
He opened the
passenger door and Petra climbed hurriedly into the car. The rain became
heavier. Martin slammed the door quickly, leaving two feet of lace hanging out
of it. Oblivious, he scampered round to the driver’s side and threw himself into
his seat. Thirty seconds later the car pulled away from the kerb dragging the
bottom of Petra’s lace dress along the puddle strewn
‘My best two dresses
ruined and you want me to try again? I may as well let him loose in my wardrobe
with a pair of scissors and a barrel of hot tar.’ Petra held her face in her
hands and looked at Stella pleadingly. ‘No, Stella, you can’t be serious. Tell
me you’re just playing games.’
Stella put on her
best sad face. ‘Pretty please?’
‘No, and this time I mean it. He’s a very likable chap, he has no major
personality faults, he’s good looking, he’s charming, he’s...I’m sure we’ve had
this conversation before. He’s a Jonah, Stella. Bad luck follows him round like
a faithful hound.’
‘It wasn’t really his
fault your dress got stuck in the car door, Petra. You were both in a hurry to
get out of the rain.’ Stella held out her hands, palms up. ‘It could have
happened to anyone.’
Petra glowered, ‘It
happened to me. You should have seen the state of my dress when we finally got
to the theatre. Cinderella would have thrown it out.’
Stella busied herself
making coffee. ‘He offered to buy you a new one. He was so looking forward to
spending time with you. He was heartbroken at work on Thursday.’ As she poured
hot water into the mugs she took a furtive look over her shoulder.
‘Was he really? The
poor man. What did he say?’
Stella clenched her
fist and whispered, ‘yes,’ then turned to face her friend. Using all her amateur
dramatics skills she put on her tragic face and relayed the conversation she’d
had with Martin in the office.
‘He said that he felt
totally and utterly devastated. He said he wouldn’t hurt you for the world. He
said he thought you were the most wonderful person he had ever met, and he
doubted he would ever get a chance to be with anyone like you again. He said he
had ruined his undeserved extra chance and he thinks he’ll become a
Petra’s eyes brimmed
with tears. ‘Oh the poor man, tell him not to be so hard on himself, it was only
a dress...Okay, two dresses. He’s a lovely person; it’s just that poltergeist
that follows him everywhere.’
Petra’s knee. ‘Tell him yourself, love. I said I’d try to get him an opportunity
to apologise in the flesh. Shall I tell him Saturday night? You two were made
for each other.’
Petra cursed and hit
the steering wheel hard. 'Stupid bloody car.'
She took her
mobile phone from her bag , pressed 9 on the speed dial and spoke to the RAC
helpdesk. If it were anyone but me it would be funny. Who else
has the RAC on their speed dial?
The girl on the desk
promised that the van would be with her in twenty minutes. An hour later, the
now familiar orange van pulled up in front of her. The mechanic opened her door
and stuck his head inside. ‘Hi Petra, long time no see.’
‘Hello Colin. It’s
been two whole days now, hasn’t it?’
Colin laughed, pulled
the lever to open the bonnet and busied himself with the engine. After trying a
couple of starts he gave her the bad news. ‘Your alternator’s had
Petra groaned. ‘That
must be the only original part of the car left. Is it going to be
‘Define expensive. It
could be worse I suppose. It could have been the
‘Been there, done
that,’ Petra replied. ‘Can you get me going? I’ll get the local garage to pick
it up again. They are talking about fitting a homing
Martin was waiting at
his gate as she pulled up. ‘Not the car again?’
Petra nodded sadly.
‘It’s always the bloody car. My life revolves around the RAC man and the
mechanic, people are beginning to talk.’
quietly. ‘Why don’t you let me have a look at it for you? I’m still a dab hand
with the spanners.’
Petra shook her head
quickly. If he can ruin dresses like that, what could he do to
‘It’s okay, Martin,'
she said. 'The garage I use have had it so many times now, I get mate’s
Martin led her into
the house. ‘I thought we might have a quiet dinner then watch a DVD. Nothing
messy, just prawn salad then fish and veg. No gravy to spill all over
Petra grinned. 'Jeans
and jumper tonight, spill away.’
Martin led her
outside onto his patio and handed her a glass of Merlot. Petra sipped the wine
and wandered down the garden past rows of neat flower beds. At the bottom was a
large shed. Parked outside, on a small lawn, was a gleaming motocross
‘I didn’t know you
were into motocross, Martin.’ Petra turned, wide eyed, as he strolled down
‘I’ve been into it
since I could first ride a bike,’ he said. ‘I got my first one at
‘Both my brothers had
trial bikes,’ she said happily. 'They used to
let me ride them sometimes. I got quite good.’
At last, something
they had in common?
‘Would you like to
have a go on this one?' he offered. 'There’s a track on the waste ground over
the back. We could go after dinner.’
‘Fabulous,’ she enthused. ‘I’m so excited. It’s been years since I rode a
Over dinner Martin
asked Petra to bring her car round to his garage. ‘Let my lads have a look at
it,' he pleaded. 'We have a fully computerised testing system. I think it’s high
time someone sorted that thing out for you once and for all. I’ll throw in
mate’s rates too.’
Petra thought about
it for a moment, then agreed. 'Thank you
Martin. Between them, that bloody car and my wardrobe are bankrupting
After dinner Martin
and Petra walked the bike round to the wasteland behind his house. ‘What do you
think?’ asked Martin. ‘Pretty cool, hey?’
Petra was amazed.
Laid out before them was a vast expanse of grass and mud. Here and there were
small hillocks, old piles of earth that had been left behind when the estate was
built. A greasy muddy track ran through the whole area. She turned to Martin,
opening her eyes wide. ‘They couldn’t have built a better track if they’d
Martin grinned. ‘Me
first. I’ll show you the best way round. Hang on, she takes a bit of kicking
Petra stood aside
while Martin tried to start the bike. It took four attempts before the engine
burst into life. Martin lifted the front wheel, revved the engine and pulled
away with a roar. Mud, grass, and worse, flew out from under the back wheel,
covering Petra from head to foot in greasy, clinging
raced off. He was clearly in his element. After a hundred yards he planted his
foot, skidded, and bought the bike round to face her. The rebel yell froze in
his throat as he stared at her. She looked a picture of misery.
Martin closed his
eyes and cursed. I must have broken a hundred mirrors to get luck like
Slowly he made his
way back across the muddy ground. As he got closer he relaised that Petra
wasn’t crying. The tremors that racked her body were not brought on by tears,
but laughter. Martin dropped the bike and walked over to her.
Petra scraped a
handful of mud from her jeans and threw it at him. ‘Okay, Martin,’ she laughed,
hardly able to get her breath. ‘I give up. Let’s take on this poltergeist
TRACY'S HOT MAIL!
Release date 20th January 2012. Published by Crooked Cat Publishing
Stickle Hates Homework. The new book from Trevor
Peggy Larkin’s War, Abigail Pink’s
Angel, Magic Molly and Faylinn Frost and the Snow Fairies available in paperback
and eBook at my book store
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