The Happy Client by Emma Newman (a Split Worlds Story)

I'm delighted to be hosting the next Split Worlds story by Emma Newman, who among her many claims to fame has the dubious honour of being married to me. Over to you Em:

 

This is the ninth in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. 

The Happy Client

Adam drank the last of his coffee, knowing he couldn't put it off any longer. It was time to get ready and start his new life.

Every night he'd followed the instructions perfectly; coming home straight from work and not answering his phone or checking his emails once in the house. No television, no books, not even his weekly ten-pin bowling club, just time alone.

It had been one of the longest months ever. So many times he'd almost cracked, desperate to numb himself with some TV, but then he went back to the exercises he'd been given by his doctor. After all, she was highly educated, a specialist in her field, and what was he? A loser in his mid-thirties with no prospects, no family and no hope of finding his way out of the rut alone. Everyone else who'd completed her programme spoke of the most amazing results. He'd read the testimonials a hundred times over, wanting the same.

He showered, dressed, all the while reminding himself that he was ready now, that he was going to step outside of the block of flats into a new life. The shirt and tie were fresh out of the cellophane, the trousers recently picked up from the dry cleaners, the shoes polished.

He took the ring out of his bedside drawer and stood in front of the mirror, cupping the thick silver band in his palm in front of him, feeling stupid. He forced himself to look at his reflection and said "I am an attractive, intelligent man and I deserve to find happiness." Then he slipped the ring onto his right hand and thought of his perfect woman.

He got as far as the blue eyes. Why was he doing this? Then his gaze fell upon the post-it note stuck in the corner of the mirror.

"Do what she says, no matter how stupid!" It was his handwriting, though he couldn't remember sticking it there. He shut his eyes again, returned to the vision of his perfect match, remembered describing her to his therapist and how embarrassed he'd been. But this time it was different; there was hope.

"I'm ready for you to come into my life now," he said, and then blew gently on the ring, imagining meeting her and sweeping her off her feet. He quashed the feeling of idiocy again, did his best to ignore the voice predicting failure, and left the house.

The summer's evening was perfect for meeting his future wife. He listened to the clip of his shoes on the pavement, imagined himself filling his body, shoulders back, chest out, in command of his life. He was a success. He did deserve love. He was-

"Look out!"

He heard the woman call out a second before a heavy thump against his legs. A bowling ball plopped into the gutter beside him.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry, are you okay?"

He brushed off the dirty mark left on his trousers. "I'm fine."

"The bag split."

He looked up to see a hole in the bottom of a leather bowling ball case, then the woman holding it. She had the most amazing blue eyes he'd ever seen. She was tall and attractive, but not intimidatingly so, and her embarrassed smile melted away his irritation.

"I think the cat's been chewing it, little bugger, I should have checked it before I came out, I'm so sorry, you're not hurt are you?"

"No," he replied, retrieving the ball. "Are you on your way to the place down the road?"

"Yeah," she said. "I just moved into the area and thought I should see if it's any good."

This is it, he thought, this was the moment he'd been working towards all these months in therapy, the opportunity he'd been preparing for so carefully over the last month. He took a moment to think through his mantra of confidence and said, "My name's Adam and I'm a VIP member there. Would you like to play a game?"

He readied himself for her smile's gentle death, the thin excuse and rapid departure. Instead, his bravery was rewarded by delight and an enthusiastic acceptance. "I'm Rachel," she said. "Pleased to meet you, though I have to say you don't make a very good bowling pin."

They walked, her bowling ball tucked under his arm, and he learned that she'd moved out of central London to escape the noise and drunks. She was a freelance graphic designer and there was no ring on her left hand.

"What do you do?" she asked and he almost fell into the old pattern of lying about being a company exec on a huge salary. He paused, ran his thumb along the inside of the ring and said "I work at the local supermarket. Not very glamorous."

He looked for the disdain, there was none. "Must be nice to have a steady income," she said and that was it. With elation, he realised it was all his baggage. As his therapist had said, thousands of men worked in supermarkets and didn't feel bad about it, so why should he?

By the time they'd finished the first game he knew they'd be married within the year and his therapist was a genius. Every time he felt nervous, he just remembered the mantra and looked at the ring, reminding himself that he deserved to be happy. The game moved onto a drink, then a meal.

"So here's my number," she said, handing him a business card as they paused at the corner where they'd part ways. "And I've got yours, so we can both sweat about who'll be the first to call and what we should say, okay?"

He laughed, he'd done that so many times that evening, more than in the last year altogether. "If you call tomorrow, I won't think you're being too keen."

"If you call tomorrow I won't be disappointed," she said, brushed his arm with her hand and walked away. "Don't watch me walk," she shouted over her shoulder. "Or I'll trip over."

He waved and walked home with the helium gait of a euphoric man. As soon as the front door was shut and locked behind him, he dialled his Doctor's number, so grateful she was available twenty four hours a day.

"Hello Adam."

"Hi, it's not too late to call is it?"

"Not at all, I'm always here for you. It was the end of your reflective month today, how are you feeling?"

"I just met my future wife! It worked! I'm so happy!"

"I'm pleased to hear that Adam," her voice was calm, as it always was. Once he'd found it infuriating, now it was helping to ground him.

"I don't know when to call her though, to arrange the next date. I don't want to mess this up."

"Call my secretary tomorrow and ask for an emergency appointment. We can talk it over then and make sure there are no negative thought patterns lingering before you make that decision."

"I will. And thanks Dr Tate, you've done so much for me."

"It's my pleasure. Did you use the ring as I instructed?"

"Yes, absolutely."

"Excellent, don't forget to bring it with you. It sounds like you're ready to move onto the next part of the programme."

Thanks for hosting Pete! I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it's all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x

3 Responses to The Happy Client by Emma Newman (a Split Worlds Story)

  1. Oh my.. He's a bit of a poor old lost cause isn't he? But what the hell is the next part of the programme? If I were her, I'd keep that bowling ball handy!
    Great story again Emma.. I don't know how you manage it.. over Christmas n'all ..

  2. Really intriguing…

    Nice to see Doctor Tate again, too. Could this be where, initially, the 'distilled loneliness' came from..? Hmmm.

  3. Love it. I really like how the Split Worlds stories veer from the subtle to the more overt, whilst maintaining that overall feel and cohesion. Great stuff!

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