‘Oh, please Mandy, come with us. You’ll have a good time.’ Jan, dressed in her Friday night finery, begged from the doorway. I sat on the sun-lounger, outside the French windows, book in hand. Once Jan’s best friends, the twins, Anvi and Diya had arrived, they would head into town for the evening.
I shook my head. Clubbing wasn’t my thing. Ever since I moved into the flat to share with Jan, she’s tried to fix me up with a date. At first, out of politeness, I had joined them.
‘It’s a great way of making new friends by meeting mine,’ Jan had said. Until I noticed, most of the people she introduced me to were single men she hardly knew. The doorbell rang, heralding my escape. After greeting Jan, Anvi and Diya popped their identical brown heads around the door and said in unison. ‘Are you coming with us, Mandy?’
‘Not tonight, I’m busy.’ And held up my book.
‘Girls, I’ve already tried to persuade her.’ Jan said. ‘Mandy, you’ve got to forget all about him, and live a little dangerously.’
The twins giggled and said, ‘You’ve read enough books to build your own library.’
‘We’ve offered her the chance for a night out and she’s made her decision,’ Jan said from the hallway. ‘We’re off now, Mandy.’
‘Have fun,’ I called back.
‘We will,’ they said closing the front door behind them.
After moving into the area to start a new job, and a new beginning, I came across Jan’s advertisement on the net. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never shared accommodation before, but wanted something more homely than the B&B where I lived. Jan’s flat was in a perfect location and was within easy reach of the florist where I worked.
On a bitterly cold morning, I found myself standing before an impressive Victorian house that overlooked a park. As I took in the ornate ceiling in the grand entrance, wondering, which one of three flat conversions, I would be living in, I was struck from behind and my bag went flying.
‘Oh, please forgive me,’ said a breathless fair-haired woman as she scrambled to pick up the contents of my shopping bag. Too early for my appointment, I had wasted a bit of time in the nearby bookshop.
With a bright smile the young woman said, ‘You wouldn’t be Mandy Kent, by any chance?’ she asked while slipping the romantic novels back into the bag and handed it to me. ‘I’m Jan Meadows.’
‘Oh dear, not a great start to our relationship, but at least you can tell people I swept you off your feet.’ She opened the door to her flat. ‘Please come in, if you trust me.’
Jan soon made me feel as though we’d known each other for years with her guided tour of the spacious flat. Within the week, I had moved in, and by the end of the month, it had become my home.
The sitting room French windows led out onto a communal garden. Jan used the low wall outside the patio doors to screen off a small area with trellising. This allowed us to have a certain amount of privacy when we had the doors open.
Once the evenings became warm enough, I curled up on the sun-lounger on the patio, with the latest romantic novel, a spotlight over my shoulder and a glass of white wine in one hand. With a myriad of twinkling stars overhead, I was in heaven as I turned to the first page. Now I could abandon myself into the strong arms of the handsome hero of my choice, rather than find a new boyfriend, especially after the grief, I suffered with the last one.
For two years, my life was full of Gerard’s inconsistencies. Some evenings, if I were lucky, he would arrive on my doorstep either, very late, normally after I’d cancelled restaurant bookings or dinner dates with friends. Sometimes, he would arrive on time, but suddenly needed to be elsewhere, and had to go. On receiving a last minute call from Gerard, ‘Mandy, I promise this is the last time.’
‘No, Gerard, this is the final time,’ I said cutting the call, fed up at being left all dressed up with nowhere to go. That’s when I found romantic novels’ heroes were more reliable. There’s no chance of them letting me down.
Lying in a haze of sweet summer jasmine, I turned the pages in quick succession, following the hero. Knight Theodore battled with the power of darkness to rescue his beautiful Abbelina from the wicked wizard’s tower of doom. Theodore climbed the crumbling stairs, swinging his sword as he cut his way through the army of night creatures. Before the heavy, locked, oak door, he lifted his sword high and sliced through it as though it was made of paper, and swept the love of his life up in his powerful arms, and kissed her.
‘Oh, my sweet love, my darling Abbelina, at last we are together,’ he murmured into her ear.
‘Oh, my darling sweet... Arrh!’ she cried.
Theodore swung round, his sword drawn, pulling his love close behind him.
In horror, I threw my book aside as something black and hairy dropped into my lap. A pair of bright, green eyes blinked up at me, before letting out a pitiful cry.
‘Hello, where did you come from?’ I asked, looking up into the starry night sky. The kitten clawed gently at my legs, turning around twice, and then settling down and promptly falling asleep. The sound of purring was quite soothing as I read on.
Suddenly, I woke with a jolt, the sound of the front door closing and Jan’s footfall coming into the sitting room.
‘Hello, you still up?’
‘I nodded off.’ My little companion was gone. I moved the lamp back into my bedroom, before gathering up my novel and the empty wine glass. ‘Would you like a hot chocolate?’ I called to Jan from the kitchen.
While I added the chocolate powder to our cups, and waited for the kettle to boil. Jan, seated at the table, reached for my book and read the page I had reached.
‘Honestly, life isn’t like a romantic novel to meet the right guy, you need to go out rather than burying your head in this rubbish.’
‘It’s escapism.’ I took the novel from her and replaced it with a mug. ‘Anyway, did you have a good time?’ I sat opposite her.
‘We had a wonderful time. We’re all meeting up for coffee tomorrow. You should come along, too.’
‘It’s very sweet of you, Jan, but I’m not in a hurry to find love.’ I took a sip of my hot chocolate, hoping that she would leave it at that.
Jan gestured to the book. ‘Why lock yourself away in a tower, waiting for a prince to rescue you. Climb upon a white charger for yourself, that’s the way to true love these days.’
I took another sip of my drink, while trying to come up with some excuse, which wouldn’t hurt her feelings. Jan and I are so very different. Where I enjoy being on my own, relaxing and reading into the night, Jan was the opposite, enjoying mixing and dancing the night away. So playing safe, I opted for changing the subject. ‘Do you know anyone who owns a black kitten?’
‘A black kitten?’ She frowned tiredness clouded her mind. ‘No, why?’
‘Well, one dropped onto my lap, while I reading on the patio.’
‘You need to get out more, Mandy.’ Jan glanced towards the sink, where an empty wine bottle stood. The one, I had left for recycling. She turned a questioning look on me. ‘Tomorrow, why don’t you come out for coffee, with us?’
I laughed. ‘You know, full well there was only enough wine in that bottle for one glass. So can you think of anyone?’
‘Anyone, who’d make a hot date for you.’ She gave a light laugh and took a sip of her drink.
‘No, silly, who owns a black kitten?’
Jan shook her head and set her mug down. “No idea.
‘Who lives above us?’
‘Lucy Wibberley does, but she’s away at the moment. Then there’s the Byfords. Mr Byford suffers from asthma so no pets there.’
‘Oh well, I expect it's found its way home by now.’
Jan crossed to the sink. ‘Hmm, I need my bed, if I’m to look my best for the morning. Are you sure you don’t want to come with us tomorrow?’
‘I’m sure. Thanks for asking. I’m going to the library to find out about evening classes.’
‘Evening classes? What for? You’ll meet someone far more exciting with us, than you will at the college.’ Jan rinsed her mug under the hot water before setting it upside down on the drainer.
‘Jan, I’m not looking for love.’
‘Goodnight, sweet dreams,’ she said, with a wink, before disappearing into her bedroom.
I washed my cup and set it next to hers. It would be nice to meet someone special who enjoyed reading, and the quieter side of life, rather than clubbing, but maybe I’m too much of a dreamer, I picked up my book, and headed off to bed.
The morning sunlight poured through the window as I threw the curtains back. My room was slightly smaller than Jan’s, overlooking the garden. From my window, a path led down to a garage block, half hidden by a collection of shrubs. Brightly coloured bedding plants edged the lawn, while pots of fuchsias and geraniums stood along the low wall surrounding the patio. As I took in the view, I saw something curled up on the sun-lounger. I grabbed my dressing gown and hurried outside.
‘Hello you.’ The kitten yawned lazily before stretching and turning over. ‘You poor thing, you haven’t been out here all night?’ I stroked its tummy. ‘Are you hungry?’ I carried it indoors.
‘Not really, Mandy, but it’s always best to have breakfast.’ Jan rubbed the sleep from her eyes as we entered the kitchen. ‘Oh my, he’s so cute! Where did you find him?’
‘On the sun-lounger. He’s the little devil who dropped in on me, but how do you know, it’s a he?’
‘I don’t, but to be that gorgeous, it must be a male.’ She laughed, took a tin of tuna from the cupboard, and a small dish.
‘I wonder where he came from.’ I set him down. He wandered unsteadily over to the dish, sniffed it, and then tucked in.
‘I’ve got a basket he can sleep in until we find out who owns it,’ Jan said kneeling before the kitten, stroking its head as it chomped on another chunk of tuna.
When the twins arrived, they cooed over the kitten, while waiting for Jan. Just before leaving, Jan said, ‘We’re all meeting up at the coffee house at midday; why not join us.’
‘Not today, I’m kitten sitting.’ I set Black Magic, the name I had given him, on the floor and he ran after them. I raced after him and grabbed him just as they were closing the front door.
‘Well, Black Magic I need to get dressed. Now you behave yourself.’
Moments later, I noticed the French windows hadn’t been closed properly. ‘Oh, Black Magic, I’ll never find you now.’ I checked the sun-lounger, just in case, but he was gone. With a heavy-heart, and no kitten to worry about, I set to work cleaning the flat. Jan and I were both tidy people, so soon the flat was clean, and the washing done and ready to hang out.
The rotary dryer was in a breezy spot near the garage block. As I began to peg the last item of washing on the line, I heard a faint mewling. ‘Black Magic, where are you!’ I couldn’t see where the cries were coming from so I hunted in among the shrubs. ‘Come on, show yourself!’ I pushed my way between two laurel bushes and found myself up against the back wall. The meowing seemed to be above me.
‘How did you get up there, you silly thing?’ Black Magic peered at me from the garage roof. ‘Come on, jump.’ He nervously leaned forward as though he was about to, but then gave a pathetic cry and moved back from view.
‘I should leave you there.’ I snapped in frustration as I began to hunt for a way to reach him. The shrubs attacked me, pulling at my clothes and hair, while his pitiful mewling floated down. ‘You should’ve thought about how you would get down before going up there,’ I called while struggling to free myself from another branch. The wall from the neighbour’s house met up with the wall from the garage. Between the two stood a large tree stump that almost reached to the garage roof. I held on to it and a drainpipe to pull myself half onto the roof. Now I could see Black Magic sitting in the centre whimpering at me.
‘What I don’t understand,’ I said, as though talking to one of my customers at the shop. ‘Why couldn’t you jump into my arms today? Yesterday evening you were quite capable of throwing yourself at me!’ I raise my foot higher, hoping to find a better foothold. As I struggled to shift my weight a forceful voice from below said, ‘What on earth are you trying to do?’
On turning my head to see who had spoken, my foot slipped and I lost my grip and fell backwards. Then unexpected strong arms encircled me and the most delicious smelling aftershave filled my nostrils. I lay still, feeling safe and not wanting to open my eyes, in case I was dreaming.
‘My God, Mandy, are you all right?’
For a moment, I wasn’t sure. Had I been dreaming? On hearing Jan’s voice, I was sure I was going to wake up on the sun-lounger with a book over my face. She continued, ‘Oh, hi Charles, when did you get back?’
‘A couple of weeks ago,’ a deep, silky voice said.
‘Oh, Lucy never said anything about you coming to stay again, before she left.’
“A last minute favour.”
‘Charles?’ I said opening my eyes slowly to find two golden, amber pools staring down into mine. I sighed. I was in heaven.
‘May I ask what you were trying to do up there?’
‘Rescuing the kitten,’ I muttered, feeling a little silly.
A small, black face, with bright green eyes and tiny pink tongue, meowed at us.
‘Oh Jack, what have you got yourself into this time. Come on down.’ Without a moment’s hesitation, Black Magic aka Jack jumped straight into my lap. ‘You'd better hold on tight.’
Not knowing whether Charles was addressing Black Magic or me, I held on to his neck as he carried us over to the sun-lounger. After carefully setting us down, Charles sat on the low wall. ‘I’ve been wondering how I would break it to Lucy that her kitten was missing after she'd entrusted him to me.’
‘I didn’t know Lucy had a kitten. Black Magic is adorable.’ Jan winked at me.
‘Well, that’s what Mandy named him after he dropped in on her last night.’
‘It’s a great name! After the vanishing act, he pulled; it is a far more suitable name than Jack. Lucy, my sister, named him after her latest beau. Jack gave the kitten to her just before they left on holiday. That’s how I became its sitter.’ Charles held out his hand to me and said, ‘I hope Black Magic didn’t give you too much of a fright.’
My hand trembled as I took his. ‘No, not really. I was just reading.’ I tried to keep my voice steady, but his wavy dark brown hair, wonderful smile, and rugged looks sent my heart racing.
‘Would you like a glass of wine to steady your nerves, Mandy?’ Jan asked her voice edged with laughter.
‘Err no, I don’t like drinking alone,’ I mumbled, without taking my eyes off Charles.
‘I wouldn’t say no to a glass myself,’ he said with a smile,
Jan nodded and disappeared through the French windows.
Charles rubbed the top of Black Magic’s tiny head with his forefinger allowing me the opportunity to check to see if he was wearing a ring. As if right on cue Black Magic stood up, stretched, and then settled back down again half on Charles’ leg and half on my lap.
‘Look, if you’re not doing anything tonight, would you care to join me for dinner? I mean, I cannot take you out as Black Magic might do a vanishing act again, but I can cook us a meal while you keep an eye on him.’
‘I would be delighted to join you both.’
‘That’s great!’ Charles slid the kitten into my lap. ‘You don’t mind keeping an eye on sleeping beauty while I do a bit of shopping for this evening, do you?’
‘Of course not. He won’t be any trouble this time.’
‘I’ll see you at seven then,’ he said.
‘I’m looking forward to it,’ I smiled, as my heart lifted. ‘Bye.’
Jan reappeared with a tray, a bottle and only two glasses. ‘That went well, I thought.’ she watched Charles walking along the path to the back gate.
‘You didn’t by any chance set me up?’ I asked, as she poured a glass of wine,
‘Call it divine intervention.’
‘Less stupid kitten, more Cupid’s kitten,’ I said kissing Black Magic’s purring head. ‘Could you watch him, while I have a quick shower?’
Jan raised her glass to me and winked. ‘Of course. Don’t forget to take this with you,’ she said tossing the romantic novel at me.
‘No, you can keep it.’ I laughed. ‘I’ve finished with it now.’
About the author
Paula R C Readman loves being creative, whether that’s with words or with paint. So far, she has five books and over a hundred short stories published. This year she hopes to enter more writing competitions. To find out more about Paula and her writing visit: https://paularcreadmanauthor.blog