Changing Times by Sue Moorcroft

Thinkstock © Couple under the tree in city park Illustration: Thinkstock, Mandy Dixon

Would the carefree and unorthodox Jake be able to win back Stephanie? The clock was ticking…

Stephanie’s navy suit was definitely not waterproof. She shivered under the arch in front of the Guildhall.

The deluge became a hissing, pelting, gurgling storm and the noise filled the square that was fading behind a veil of water. The arch, Stephanie decided miserably, wasn’t up to much so far as providing shelter was concerned.

For the twentieth time, she checked her phone. No messages or calls. Hanging around for Jake was not a new experience but it was often heralded by apologetic texts. She shoved her phone away and using her handbag to shield her head from the icy needles of rain, sprinted towards the Green Doors Café.

Pathetically grateful to reach its steamy warmth, she couldn’t prevent her teeth chattering as she gave her order. “A chicken salad sandwich on granary bread, please. And hot coffee in a takeaway cup.” Just the smell was making her mouth water.

The lady behind the counter clucked sympathetically as she reached for some tongs. “You look drowned, love.”

“Nearly.” Stephanie attempted a smile as water trickled coldly down her neck. Then, once more ducking her head under the inadequate protection of her bag, she quit the café to scurry back to work through the downpour.

“Steph! Steph-er-nee-ee!”

Stephanie halted abruptly.

Jake had finally arrived.

He bounded into her path

Breathless but looking nicely protected in his capacious blue hiking jacket, he bounded into her path. “I’m late,” he pointed out unnecessarily.

“Sorry. Look at the state of you!” There was a glimmer of a smile in his blue eyes as he peered from under his thick hood.

Stephanie glared through the drops that ran steadily down her face.

Jake pretended to wring the water from her dark hair.

Stephanie jerked her head away. “Stop! I’m in this ‘state’ because I’ve just spent three-quarters of my lunch-hour in the pouring rain. And contrary to what you said, the Guildhall’s being used for a private party today, not a craft fayre, so I couldn’t wait inside.”

Jake’s eyes widened in horror. “Oops. I must have got the date wrong.”

Stephanie’s voice began to shake with cold and indignation. “I should have known that I’d need to check everything myself.”

He skipped to catch up with her as she swung away

“Cool down!” Then, probably realising that this could be considered tactless, “I’m sorry I got the date wrong and I’m sorry I’m late – again. I couldn’t help it, the stall was busy and Mark’s off work ill today. I couldn’t leave until Thomas from the veg stall could mind my stuff for me.”

Jake and Mark ran a cheerily striped stall in the indoor market selling second-hand CDs and DVDs.

Avoiding his comforting arm, Stephanie wiped her face. “And you didn’t have a moment to call or text?”

Guiltily, he scuffed his big work boot in one of the rivers streaming between the flower tubs. “I forgot to charge my phone. Thomas said I could use his but your number’s not in his contacts list. By the time I realised I was going to be late you’d already left work. I did try to ring you there,” he added, virtuously.

“When you knew I would already have left?” Stephanie shook her head at Jake’s rueful expression. “Anyway, I have to get back now.”

Jake’s eyes went to her suit. “Shame you didn’t bring a coat.”

“If the rain had begun before I left, I might have, but it hadn’t.” Stephanie spoke with exaggerated patience. Hunching her shoulders against the chilly raindrops, she had one last thing to say. “Jake, I wouldn’t mind so much if this were an isolated incident but you being late happens more often than you being on time. Letting your phone run out of charge is situation normal. Either you can’t organise even the simplest of things… or you simply can’t be bothered.”

She held up a hand to stem his reply

“Be truthful – is it just me? Because it seems you can get to some places on time. Like music gigs or evenings playing Dungeons and Dragons with your mates. Maybe you charge your phone when you want to speak to them, too?”

Jake’s eyes filled with alarm. “Steph, I’d never be late for you on purpose.”

Stephanie was already turning away. “In which case you obviously don’t feel enough for me to make the effort to avoid being late accidentally. Maybe we should just forget it. Forget ‘us’.”

This time, Jake let her go. She glanced back to see him staring after her bedraggled figure, the rain bouncing off the glistening pavement. The shiver that ran down her spine wasn’t entirely caused by her soaking suit and soggy shoes.

Stephanie hung her jacket to drip on a radiator in the kitchen and ate her sandwich. Using paper hand towels she blotted her hair. Then her eyes. The idea of not being with Jake any more lay in the pit of her stomach but if all he was going to do was take her for granted…

She had to hurry back to her desk with her coffee, or be late – and she didn’t like to be late.

Her job was something she took seriously and she was efficient and confident, which made it doubly peculiar that she should have involved herself with the likes of Jake, who scrambled through life with a grin and a shrug. The attraction of opposites, she supposed.

They’d met last summer when Stephanie had been out with Eddie, a new member of staff who’d apparently been unaware that there should be two sides to a conversation.

Jake, an old school friend Stephanie had scarcely seen since their teen years, had rescued her with a pretend urgent summons. Leaving Eddie mid-sentence in what had seemed an interminable monologue, Stephanie had giggled as she remembered that such crazy behaviour was normal for Jake.

Jake was kind, Jake was unorthodox. He’d wade into the pond to rescue a child’s boat, or snooze in the cinema if he was tired. He’d carry the shopping of an old lady and didn’t seem to mind if as many people hung around his stall for a chat as to buy his “pre-loved” music and movies.

Unfortunately, these adventures seemed to render him incapable of watching the clock.

Were they simply too different for their relationship to survive?

Stephanie’s working day began at 8.45am; she was part of a holiday rota and wore a suit to work.

Jake opened his stall after he’d eaten breakfast, looked at the paper and sauntered into town. His closing time was dictated by the presence or otherwise of customers. If he could afford a holiday he had one. Jake didn’t own a suit.

Stephanie stared drearily ahead. For once she took no satisfaction in the orderly lines of numbers on her computer screen.

“It’s me.” Jake’s voice echoed down the phone that evening. “Are we still friends?”

Stephanie dried the warm washing-up suds from her hands, her phone caught between her shoulder and ear. She tried to make her voice gentle and firm but it kept sticking in her throat with sadness as she voiced her fears.

“Maybe we’re too different, Jake. You can’t be bothered with punctuality – I can’t be bothered to wait for you to get around to me.”

“Mark was off sick,” he pointed out. “And I’ve said I’m sorry about my phone. I don’t think we’re ‘too different’.”

Stephanie closed her eyes. She wanted to believe him, wanted to erase the pain from his voice. “Even though I’m naturally inclined to run to schedules and you’re naturally… not? It’ll always be a source of friction.”

“I’ll try harder.” His voice dropped coaxingly. “How about a test? I’ll meet you at three o’clock – absolutely, positively three o’clock – on Sunday afternoon by the big tree in the park. There’s a band on I think you’ll like.”

Stephanie wavered. “Not heavy metal?”

He snorted a laugh, well aware of her aversion to the roaring of metal bands. “It’s an indie band. I know the singer.”

She began to weaken

“Three o’clock. Absolutely?”

“Positively,” he agreed, triumphantly. “I’ll see you there!”

Which left Saturday… Stephanie had become used to spending Saturdays behind Jake’s stall, chatting to him and his colourful customers or threading her way to the little on-site café in search of coffee. Now the meeting on Sunday had been invested with such significance, Saturday at the stall didn’t feel like an option. She filled the day with cleaning her little flat.

Then, as Jake didn’t message her no matter how many times she checked her phone, she settled in for a solitary evening with a box set of DVDs. It proved the longest part of a long day.

Also, she realised, it led to a long night, as the clocks were to change for the summer. Before going to bed she carefully reset her watch, two clocks and the oven timer. She didn’t have to change her phone because it adjusted itself.

Waking to a bright day, welcome after the recent rain, Stephanie whiled away a quiet morning with the Sunday papers. It was odd how the changing of the clocks affected the feel of a day but the time to get ready to meet Jake did eventually roll around.

She strolled along the park’s pathways filled with parents and children taking advantage of the extra hour. Would it ensure Jake’s punctuality? Or be an extra hour for Jake to get distracted?

Passing the bandstand, Stephanie was surprised to realise the park was emptying. Maybe the band had had to cancel?

Jake was there, crouched at the base of the big tree where they often met, the late sunshine slanting beneath the boughs of new leaves to make his hair shine like a copper coin.

He looked uncharacteristically glum.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

Stiffly, he climbed to his feet

“Have I been taught a lesson? If so, I suppose I asked for it. And, if it makes you feel better, I hated it.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Hated…?”

“Waiting two hours for you.”

“We said three o’clock.” Stephanie glanced at her watch. The hands stood at two minutes to three.

“And now it’s five.”

“Five?” She stared uncomprehendingly.

Jake let her see his own watch, then swung her round and pointed to the black-and-gold clock on the tower across the road.

Both read five o’clock.

Heat rose, scalding her cheeks, Stephanie turned back, lifting her eyes to his only with difficulty. “Um… was I supposed to put my clocks forward?”

“Of course.”

“Ah.” She swallowed. “I put mine back.”

A silence grew while Stephanie inspected Jake’s baseball boots.


She shrugged. “I got it the wrong way round.

Jake threw back his head and began to laugh. He laughed until he had to hold on to Stephanie’s shoulders for support. “You’ve finally learned what it’s like to be late!”

She had to join in, to laugh at herself. “I’ve never done that before,” she groaned. “All I can do is apologise.”

“It’s OK. I know how you feel.” His eyes glittered with mischief. “I can’t always keep track of time, either.”

Stephanie’s face couldn’t get any redder. “And I’ve always given you a hard time about it.”

Jake pulled her into the warmth of his arms. “You’ve always been right to. Today’s made me realise how horrible it is to be kept hanging around. Do you know what time it is now?”

Confused, Stephanie checked her phone. “Two minutes past five.”

He smiled. “More importantly – it’s time for me to change.”

Author Sue Moorcroft

Author Sue Moorcroft

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