WRITTEN BY TOP AUTHOR AMANDA PROWSE
Jill longed for that special someone who would make her feel as though she really belonged
Jill sat in the supermarket canteen on her morning break and looked around. She pulled her phone to her ear and whispered, “I did it. I replied!”
Maggie squealed her approval on the other end. “Oh my God! This is so exciting! What did you say?”
“I just said ‘yes, an open top bus trip sounds lovely’. What else was I supposed to say?”
It had been three years, four months, two weeks and eight days since Jill’s last date – not that she was counting.
“I don’t know. Just something like, very much looking forward to it.”
“I didn’t want him to think I was keen,” Jill whispered as Martin from the fish counter sidled into a chair nearby.
“But you are keen? He sounds lovely.”
“Yes, but you can put anything you like in these ads – he might not be lovely,” she pointed out. Her fifteen minutes was nearly up. “Got to get back on the till. Call you later.”
“When’s your big day?”
Jill tutted; her sister made it sound as if they were discussing her wedding!
“Saturday. He’ll see me on board.”
Jill woke early. In truth she hadn’t slept much, but had watched the hands of the clock slowly turn as her stomach rumbled with nerves.
Jutting her chin, she looked critically at herself in the mirror.
“Who are you trying to kid?” she said aloud. “Mind you, who does MinesAPint think CheckOutGirl is – Taylor Swift?”
Jill squeezed into her jeans and slipped on a new pink top, bought specially for the occasion. She swallowed her nerves and made her way across town. Trying not to look as if she was waiting for someone, Jill leaned on the bus stop and read the news headlines on her phone.
It was now 9.08. The bus was eight minutes late. Please hurry, don’t leave me standing here like a wally… Her pulse quickened and her tongue stuck to the roof of her dry mouth as she smoothed and re-smoothed her top.
Two minutes later, the open-top bus came around the corner. She sucked in her tummy and scanned the windows to see if anyone was waving. Nothing.
Jill felt two high spots of colour rise in her cheeks
Why is this so hard? How do you get to be one of those people who are half of a couple? It seems like everyone in the world has someone apart from me. I’d just love to use the phrase “my boyfriend”…
“Ticket?” The bus driver smiled.
“Oh yes, please.” Jill handed over the cash. She scanned the lower deck, saw an old couple sitting at the back, sharing a packet of digestives. Gripping the rail, Jill trod the narrow stairs to the top of the bus. It was half full. Taking her courage in her hands, she looked along the seats at various couples and families with kids. Unable to locate a single, rose-wielding Brad Pitt-lookalike, she took a seat near the front. He wasn’t there. She had been let down. Again.
“Can you all hear me?” A man’s voice came over a speaker. Some nodded in reply, others shouted back. The guide with the microphone made his way up and down the aisle, engaging with his audience.
“Welcome aboard the Sunshine Bus!”
When he got to Jill, he said, “You look fed up, if you don’t mind me saying so.” The guide in his corporate embroidered polo shirt and with his clutch of leaflets was irritatingly perky.
“I am fed up,” she answered, curtly.
“We can’t have that. It’s Saturday, it’s not raining, you’ve woken up for another day on planet Earth and you are about to go on an exciting journey!”
“Are you always this jolly?” she asked.
“God help us…” she muttered under her breath.
The bus shuddered forward…
“Here we go folks!” He started to describe the buildings they passed, spewing dates and facts that danced in and out of Jill’s preoccupied head. Maybe he saw me and changed his mind. I don’t blame him. Did you really think a new top and a bit of lippy would help? Give it up, Jill; go home have a cuppa and watch a bit of telly.
Her phone beeped, a text from Maggie: Well?
Jill felt tears prick behind her eyes and decided not to reply.
“On our right we have the Botanical Gardens, perfect for an afternoon stroll or a summer picnic…” the guide’s voice enthused.
Who wants to go for a stroll or a bloody picnic when you’ve no-one to go with? Jill suppressed the comment and smiled briefly at the smiley man with the microphone.
The hour passed quickly. Waiting until the couples and families had alighted, Jill gathered her bag and was about to stand when microphone man came and sat behind her.
“Well, CheckOutGirl, what did you think?” he beamed. She noticed for the first time his blue eyes and open smile.
“It… It’s you?” she sank back in her chair, embarrassed, awkward.
He nodded shyly.
“I’m Mick, by the way.”
“You look lovely, Jill. How about that stroll around the Botanical Gardens?”
“I can’t believe you invited me here to watch you work!” She pretended to be outraged.
“I thought it would break the ice.”
Jill was laughing now.
“What am I supposed to do for a second date – let you come and watch me on the checkout?”
Three months later, Jill was swiping a box of Fondant Fancies over the scanner when her sister shouted from three tills down, “Hey, Jilly! Looks like you’ve got a visitor!”
Jill turned towards the front of the shop and smiled at the open-top bus that slowed outside the supermarket.
“Someone you know?” the customer asked as she packed her groceries, glancing at the man on the top deck who appeared to be blowing kisses.
“Oh, it’s just my boyfriend,” Jill said.