It wasn’t just the fire roaring in the inglenook that made the house feel warmer than it had in a long time. Sara carefully laid the scrubbed pine table in the kitchen and arranged plump seat pads on the assortment of chairs picked up from markets. Nothing matched but that was how she liked it, every piece of crockery, glassware picked because she saw something in it that appealed to her. As soon as Sara heard car tyres on the gravel she was at the front door to let Julia and Tom in, Julia craning her neck as soon as Sara opened it. The closed living room door met with consternation.
“That’ll teach you for being nosy,” Tom grinned at her fondly before kissing Sara and handing her a bottle of wine.
“Not nosy,” Julia protested giving Sara a quick hug and making towards the door, “I just want to make sure this new chap is good enough for my best friend.”
Sara slid in front of her blocking her way. “You know the short list I said I’d drawn up?”
“I’ve been trying to guess which one you went for,” she whispered trying to stifle a giggle. “I rather liked the sound of soldier boy but then again…”
“I just couldn’t make a decision,” Sara told her, “so I decided to invite all of them.”
Julia stepped back from the door in horror. “You’re joking right? Are you telling me you’ve got five guys sitting in there? Together? Are you mad?”
Even Tom was looking uncomfortable. “Have you got your own sort of Blind Date thing going on?”
Sara grinned at the shock on their faces. “It’s your fault Julia,” she told her, “If you remember it was you who pushed me into the whole internet dating thing.”
Two months had passed from that evening when Julia had cried tears of almost undiluted chardonnay while sitting in the chilly living room lamenting Sara’s predicament.
“You need to reach out to people Sara,” she’d woozily implored. “It’s all very well, running your own business from home but you need to make contact.” She’d put her wine glass down so that she could smack her hands together in case Sara wasn’t sure what ‘contact’ sounded like.
“You have endless opportunities to meet people,” she’d continued. “With all the antique fairs and markets you go to. It’s not like you’ve got two heads or anything and when you try you can look really attractive.”
Even through her wine induced fog, Sara was getting defensive. “For your information,” she snapped, “when I’m at fairs I’m looking for things to buy, not at the person selling them. This house doesn’t run on thin air you know.”
Julia held up her hands in triumph. “See,” she said “exactly, you’re getting annoyed and that’s because you can see that I’m right. You’re lonely and isolated in this big old house with no one to share it with.
“I know just what you need to do,” Julia had said jumping up and knocking over her empty glass. “Internet dating.”
Sara had held her hands up. “No,” she’d said firmly, standing to block Julia’s path to her computer. “Look what happened when you tried it. Your computer was scrap after that virus you downloaded with the details of the ‘fireman with a good sense of humour’.”
“I think you’re forgetting that I met Tom as a result,” she replied still intent on getting past Sara to the desk.
“That was not through internet dating,” Sara argued. “Meeting Tom when you fell over in the computer repair shop does not constitute internet dating.”
Trying to stop Julia on a mission was like trying to stop a rhino on a charge and she sat down heavily at the desk before tapping various websites in with her perfect red nails.
“These will all be stored in your history,” she told Sara. “Make sure you register with at least one of them.”
Not long after that, Sara had called a taxi and bundled Julia off home, back to Tom who would help her to bed and have black coffee and aspirin ready in the morning. The old farmhouse had felt much bigger and colder when she’d gone and finishing the last dregs in the bottle had all been contributory factors to Sara sitting at the computer despite herself. She’d clicked into her history on the computer and one site had caught her attention straight away.
Tom looked ready to get back in the car and drive away as quickly as he could. Julia grabbed Sara by the elbow and propelled her into the kitchen. Tom followed, wanting to be as far away from the living room as possible. Grabbing the bottle of wine from him she gathered up two glasses and then a third almost as an after thought. Heading for the sofas at the end of the room she opened the bottle and sloshed in the wine.
Tom and Sara both sat. “Honestly Sara,” she began, her hand shaking slightly, “what has got into you? You go from living here practically like a nun to suddenly inviting half of AOL to dinner?” She flung her red hair dramatically.
“I’ve told you about most of them,” Sara said remembering how excited she’d been when she’d come over to hear all about her first date, “and don’t forget you’re mainly responsible for this.”
“Me!” Julia looked aghast, banging her fist to her chest.
“It’s alright Julia,” Sara laughed. “I’m so glad you suggested the whole internet dating thing. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time.”
Sara’s dates had all been so different. She’d gone walking on the beach with Luke, athletic, with chocolate eyes and an unexpected gentleness, while the town carnival was in full swing when she’d met with Connor. He was ex-army, strong and unflappable although, as she’d found out, a sucker for candy floss. Charlie was the joker (there was always a joker wasn’t there?) Rough and ready, every part of him shouted ‘Here I am world, this is me.’ His black hair stood in spikes and he’d had everyone in the pub around them in stitches. Riley was heart meltingly honest, refusing to apologise for his unconventional looks but proving that beauty really is only skin deep. It was eye opening, watching how people reacted to him as they’d sat on the park bench after feeding the ducks.
Last was Ben, kind with steel grey eyes that peered out from behind a floppy chestnut fringe. Although the attraction was undeniable, he was the one Sara had the most reservations about.
She took the wine glass out of Julia’s hand. “They’re all waiting for us,” she said, “They’ll think us really rude sitting out here.” Julia opened her mouth to argue but Sara held up her hands. “Do I have to drag you into the living room?” She fixed Julia with what she hoped was a glare to rival one of hers. Flummoxed, she stood, smoothing down the coat that she was obviously not going to take off and gestured to Tom that he’d better be close behind her.
Sara swung the heavy latch door open wide and held out her arm to usher them both in. “I’d like to introduce you to Luke, Conner, Riley, Charlie and Ben. Guys, I’d like you to meet my two very good friends, Julia and Tom.”
Ben got up from the sofa, his hand outstretched, his unruly fringe swinging in a way that made Sara’s heart skip. Luke the greyhound remained by the fire, lifting his elegant head but unwilling to leave the warmth of the hearth. Charlie the jack russell launched straight for Tom, wagging his tail so hard that he came across the room sideways until his little paws collided with Tom’s knees. Connor the german shepherd presented himself calmly to Julia, his tawny eyes ever watchful, while Riley the beagle with the missing ear and eye stayed by Ben, gentle but wary, the product of an environment Sara hoped he’d be able to forget about in time.
Sara thought it was the first time she’s ever known Julia lost for words. She put her arms around her and kissed her.
“This is all your doing,” she told her friend, walking over to Ben where he slipped his arm around Sara’s waist. “After you’d gone home that night, I did go into the computers history and had a look at a couple of the websites but there was already one there that I looked at instead. Do you remember the rescue centre where I got Bob from?”
Julia looked blank at first and then said, “Your old collie Bob?” Recall came back. “Course, dear old Bob.” She shook her head. “That’s going back a bit.”
“Well I still had the website on the computer. All of these guys were on there, waiting for homes.”
Julia was smiling now, her old confident self coming back. She laughed and pointed at Ben. “What, even him?”
“Ben looks after the dogs,” Sara explained. “We used to go to school together and we got talking. We’ve had a lovely time taking the dogs out and getting to know them. How could I possibly choose just one and turn the rest down?”
Tom laughed. “Looks like they’ve all found a good home then,” he said, clapping Ben on the shoulder. “What about you then Ben? Has she taken you in too?”
Sara punched Tom playfully and winked at Ben. “He might just need a bit more house training before he comes to stay.”
by Joanne Margeresen,
daughter of Sandra and Barry Lane