WRITTEN BY STEVE BERESFORD
She couldn’t imagine feeling like having fun – ever again – and anyway, look where saying “yes” had got her…
“Oh – OK.”
Ollie looked a trifle taken aback by Nicola’s abrupt answer, but he’d caught her in a foul mood – courtesy of a phone call from her ex – just as she was leaving her desk.
Ollie had only asked if she’d got a couple of minutes? and she’d guessed it was something to do with work. Ollie only ever talked about work.
“I’m meeting someone,” Nicola said. “And I’m late. Talk when we get back?”
“Fine. Right. Although –”
But Nicola was hurrying off.
She was meeting Sarah for lunch. They had a special bench in the park – if it was free – where they shared packed lunches.
“You’re late,” Sarah said, when Nicola finally joined her.
“Exactly.” Nicola gave Sarah a quick run-down of her pre-lunch ordeal. First her boss had been discussing a temperamental client. Then Ian, her ex-fiancé, had phoned about some important letter. His voice alone was enough to send Nicola’s blood pressure into orbit.
She’d answered “no” to everything he said, then hung up while he was still speaking.
“Then poor Ollie. He took the brunt.”
Sarah perked up.
Ollie? He’s the dishy one, right?
“I thought he was. Tall, with the hair and the glasses – you know.”
“Are you sure?”
“I do work with him.”
Ollie was tall, with hair and glasses, but Sarah didn’t need encouraging.
Sarah shrugged it off.
“Anyway, Carol’s invited me to this thing on Saturday –”
“You know, a party sort of thing. And I thought you might –”
“– like to come.” Disappointment clouded Sarah’s face. “Go on, it’ll be fun.”
“No – it won’t.”
“Good for Brian.”
“You like Brian.”
“No. I don’t.”
“No, Sarah. I do not.”
Sarah pouted. “I’m only telling you this because, as your friend, I’m worried about you, but you’ve become very negative.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“See! You’re doing it again.”
“No, I’m not.”
“And again. You need to buck yourself up a bit, Nicola. A party is exactly what you need.”
“No,” Nicola said. “It isn’t.” Of that she was convinced.
Anyway, I have every right to feel negative. I was, after all, unceremoniously dumped three weeks before my wedding.
“But that was months ago now. Go on – say yes. Come to the party.”
“No. Can we please talk about something else?”
Nicola had said “yes” to Ian when he proposed, and look where that got her. Rejected – then replaced by Mandy, a postal worker. Talking about Ian wasn’t doing her mood any good at all.
“What about holidays, then?”
“Me and Colin have booked a week in Turkey.”
“What about you?” Sarah said. “Where are you going?”
“Thought so. You should book something.”
“No, I shouldn’t.”
“It’d do you good.”
“No, it wouldn’t.”
Because Nicola couldn’t face the thought of a holiday on her own. She’d been all right before Ian, but now, after Ian, her singleness felt like a stigma.
“Not even a week in Skegness?”
Better to bury her head in work. A holiday would be torture. It would only remind her of the honeymoon not taken.
Soon work was beckoning. Lunchtime was over. Thankfully the rest of their chat had been Ian-less.
“I’ll walk back with you,” Sarah said. “I have to run an errand over that way.”
Then, as they approached Nicola’s building, Sarah suddenly pointed.
“Ooh, look, there’s that man I thought was your Ollie.”
“No – that is Ollie. Although he’s not my Ollie.”
Ollie was walking over, returning from wherever he’d been during lunch.
“So it is him.” Sarah nudged Nicola. “I knew it was. I knew it was you,” she called to him as he arrived.
“Eh?” said Ollie, looking confused.
“Ignore her,” Nicola answered abruptly. “She’s just leaving anyway.”
“Oh, OK.” He flashed a brief smile at Sarah, then turned his attention fully to Nicola. “Actually, now I’ve caught you again, Nicola, there was something I wanted to ask you.”
She didn’t like the sound of this. Or the way he was looking at her.
Best do it now, I reckon. Before my nerve goes again. Seize the moment.
“Ooh, now then,” muttered Sarah.
Oh heck, no, thought Nicola.
“So, anyway…” Ollie shuffled nervously. “I was wondering if you’d…”
“Yes, she would,” Sarah said.
“No,” Nicola countered. “I wouldn’t.”
“…like to go to this play…”
“Yes, she will.”
“No. I won’t.”
“…that I have tickets for. My friend’s in it. It’s only an amateur thing. But I thought…” Ollie’s mouth finally caught up with what his ears were hearing. “Oh, you’re not keen? Right, well then.”
“She’d like to really,” said Sarah. “She’s just got into this nasty habit of saying no to everything.”
“No, I haven’t,” Nicola said.
“Thus proving my point.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter,” said Ollie. “Don’t worry about it. It was only a thought.” Flustered and blushing, he hurried away quickly before either of them could say another word.
“You fool!” Sarah snapped.
“Take a chance. Have some fun.”
“Maybe I don’t want to.”
“You’re letting Ian ruin your life.”
“No, I’m not.”
Sarah was exasperated. “Do you always say no to everything?”
Nicola thought about it. “No” did seem to be her default answer – even when she was agreeing.
“Yes,” she said. And the feeling of the word surprised her. So much so that she used it again.
“Yes, apparently, I always do say no.”
The word “yes” was like a comfy cardigan, enveloping her. Like light shining in a dark corner. It felt like glorious chocolate melting in her mouth. She’d forgotten its power.
“Nicola?” Sarah was frowning at her… because Nicola was ignoring her. Because Nicola suddenly felt peculiar as she watched Ollie pull at the office door. He was really rather dishy. Completely different to Ian. In fact…
She scurried after him.
“Hm?” Ollie paused, turned back.
“I’ve changed my mind. I would like to go with you.”
“Oh.” He was as surprised as she was. “You would?”
“I would.” And Nicola smiled. “Yes – I really would.”
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