I'm sitting in the park on an absolutely splendid Summer's day. I managed to pack myself a little picnic, have laid out a red blanket on the dry glass, and have fashionably furnitured my face with Chanel sunglasses.
I'm reading Minx by Julia Quinn - it's a memorable section- Henry (a girl who parades in men's clothing) and Dunford (a boy who is prettier than a girl) have just met, and I'm dreamily thinking how much I'd want an unexpected romance; a lovely fairy-tale where boy meets girl and girl actually likes boy.
I can feel the sun blazing against my pale skin, so I pause my reading and fidget around to find a more comfortable spot. I scan my surrounding, but there isn't a patch in this Surrey park that hasn't been taken by someone.
So I stay where I am and resume reading my book.
"Heads up!" I hear, seconds before some bouncy object has collided with my head.
"Ouch," is all I manage as I spot the orange basketball roll off next to me.
"Sorry. You alright?" a male voice speaks, but my brain can't register anything. So I sit there rubbing my head.
"Are you OK?" he asks again, now coming into view.
"Umm...I think so," I mouth, squinting as I look up at him - my sunglasses lying next to me on the red blanket.
"Sorry. I think I over-analysed where the hoop was," the dark-haired stranger informs.
I look behind me at the lonely basketball court. "By a mile?" I snap back.
He's about to apologise yet again, but doesn't. "I'm not very good. I haven't been playing for long." he says instead.
He purses his lips at me and moves to the other side of the blanket. I can now see him so much better without the July sun limiting my view. His skin is tanned, his hair a chestnut brown which every couple of seconds he runs his fingers through. He's wearing a white t-shirt absolutely soaked in sweat, and I've noticed that his trainers are brand new - so white they'd glow in the dark. He wasn't lying when he said he hasn't played for long.
"I'll go and get you water," he announces and immediately walks towards the ice-cream van at the other end of the vivid, green stretch. I have no strength to argue, so I sit there, still rubbing my throbbing head as I watch him stride through the park.
He's incredibly good looking, I think to myself. Perhaps I should re-apply my lipstick before he comes back.
So I dig into my handbag and pull out a lipstick called 'Heroine'. A dark, golden colour which stands out beautifully in this heat, and as I finish pouting in the mirror, I glance quickly at the stranger who is now making his way towards me.
"Consider yourself lucky," he tells me. "This was their last bottle,"
"Yes, Luck really is the word to describe me today, isn't it," I say in a sarcastic tone. I can tell he doesn't appreciate this because, let's face it, he's really trying to be nice. "Thanks," I say, noticing how I must be coming across. A bitter, twenty-something girl, spending a beautiful day off work on her own.
I expect him to say, "Well, I hope you feel better. Sorry again," and leave. But to my surprise, he sits down with his legs crossed on my blanket, helps himself to a strawberry and looks at me intently.
His eyes are hazel. That's all the new information I have for now.
"Please, help yourself" I tell him, feeling a little angry that not only has he practically assaulted me, but is now stealing my food.
"You've been here for an hour and haven't touched them yet," he answers back. "I bet you anything you were going to throw them away on your way home,"
I open my mouth to argue back, but notice that he's absolutely right. I'm not the biggest fan of strawberries. It's just something that people take to picnics, isn't it.
"See," he's practically gloating.
"They were half price at Waitrose," I defend myself, instantly flicking my head away towards the tennis courts.
"What are you reading?" he asks, his fingers gracing the cover of Minx.
"A book," I say, snatching it away from his touch.
"A good read?"
"What's it about?"
"What's happening to these people?"
I look down at my book as if it's a child I'm defending from harm. "You wouldn't understand anyway," I say to him.
"Because it's about love?" he smirks at me, and I notice that his teeth are perfect. Many men don't appear to have perfect teeth.
"Yes," I respond quietly.
"Love's overrated," he says as he reaches for another strawberry.
My mouth forms a perfect oval at the shock of what he's said, "What? How can you even say that? Love's wonderful,"
"Love's painful," he says incredibly quickly. He's obviously been hurt by someone.
I pause for a bit and we both just sit there staring at each other. "I suppose it is sometimes," I tell him. "But the painful part is temporary. The wonderful part in permanent,"
He laughs at that. A whole-hearted, manly laugh that I instantly think is attractive. "How old are you?" he asks me with a smile.
"22," I respond, not seeing what that has to do with anything.
"You're still young. You're still learning," the third strawberry goes in his mouth.
"I know lots about love. And anyway, what makes you such an expert?" I angrily ask.
But he doesn't answer my question. He just smiles at me from across the failed picnic, eating my strawberries.
"How's your head?" he asks after a few seconds escape us.
I'd completely forgotten about that. "It's fine. You can leave now," I pull my possessions towards me to indicate that I no longer want him intruding in my life.
"You might have concussion,"
Annoyed, I look at him, "I don't have concussion,"
"Well, anyhow, I'd still like to stay a bit longer to make sure," he seems genuinely concerned. His eyes shine brightly, almost glimmering in the happy sunshine. "I could never play basketball again if I knew a fatality came of it,"
"Maybe you just shouldn't play basketball again full stop!" I snap.
He leans in closer. I can see a faint laughter line forming at the corner of his mouth. "You know, I was wondering why a pretty girl was spending today all alone. But now I think I know,"
I don't react to it. Whatever he's thinking about me, it isn't true. I mean, this guy launched a heavy basketball at my head, invited himself to my picnic and ate my Waitrose strawberries. How nice does he expect me to be?
"You're a Jane Austen fan," he tells me.
I look up at him with quizzical eyebrows.
"Your favourite book is Pride and Prejudice,"
I still say nothing. Just stare at him, wondering where he's going with this.
"You're still waiting for your Mr. Darcy, which is why no man has ever met your expectations,"
"Actually, I'm waiting for my Captain Wentworth," I tell him, somehow thinking I've won this little argument.
"And you're stubborn. What a wonderful mix!" he mocks - that irritating smile still on his face. "You want a love story, not a boyfriend," he tells me, and I sit there stunned. "You can't settle for just anyone, so you make up your mind about someone immediately. You jump into relationships without liking someone, but you're too stubborn to give up on it,"
My mind darts back to my last relationship...and he's right.
He leans in a little closer again, his eyes portraying sympathy. "My last girlfriend was exactly like you, and the problem is that no matter how much a guy tries, he will never be good enough in your eyes,"
Aha! We've solved the mystery of why he's so against love.
"You have me wrong," I say.
"Well, you have me 30% wrong," I begin to explain. "I'm a hopeless romantic. I long to meet the perfect guy - the perfect romance. But I'm also a realist. I've had long-term relationships," I smile at him, "so don't think you have me so sussed, Mister,"
He helps himself to the final strawberry that's sitting on it's own on the paper plate.
"I'm sorry it didn't work out with your last girlfriend," I throw a smile his way.
He looks around uncomfortably. "It's still a sore subject," so I don't probe it anymore.
"But love really is...lovely," I tell him and he smiles. A proper smile. Teeth and everything.
"Your head's better, yeah?" he asks, standing up. Immediately I want to order him to sit back down.
I nod my head.
"I better get going," he grabs the basketball and turns to leave. "Thanks for the strawberries," he shouts when he's a few metres away.
"It's fine," I call out as I pick up Minx and continue reading. Now, where was I? Ah, yes! 'He was beautiful...'
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