Finding The One

Allison Hay © Young man and woman sitting opposite each other in a cafe Illustration: Shutterstock


Laura always valued Tom’s advice about her romances – but would he accept her wisdom about his own love life?

Laura looked out her bedroom window at the rainy skies. Another grey drizzly day lay ahead of her. Saturdays were meant to be fun. She’d arranged to play tennis with an old friend to distract herself. Now they’d have to cancel because of the bad weather. The last thing she wanted was to spend today stuck inside staring at the four walls, alone with her thoughts.

Breaking up with Andrew had been hard, but inevitable. They simply wanted different things in life. Once the issue of having children had arisen and he’d been adamant he never wanted any, she could no longer pretend to herself that they could have a future together. At thirty-five, she had to be realistic. But that didn’t make the break up any easier to bear, and she’d continued seeing him for a while, hoping she could change his mind.

All to no avail.

“I have to move on,” she told herself. Speaking her thoughts out loud was a new habit. Somehow it seemed to help her clarify things. And what was the harm in it?

She couldn’t help feeling gloomy as she watched the rain splashing on the window and trickling down.

The phone rang. It was her friend Tom. “Not much of a day for tennis, is it?” he began.

Her heart sank a little further. “They’ve forecast a fine afternoon,” she said. “But it doesn’t look as though this rain is going to stop.”

She waited for the inevitable verdict, and it came in his next sentence.

“Would you mind terribly if we didn’t play tennis today?” he said.

“I’ve been half expecting you to cancel,” she said, trying to sound upbeat. “And I understand. It’s just disappointing, that’s all.” She’d hoped to talk things through with Tom, knowing he’d understand, and she always felt better when he was around.

There was a slight pause at the other end of the phone. “Would you like to do something else instead?” he asked. “We could go to a cafe or see a film?”

Something lifted inside her at his words. Maybe her Saturday could still be fun? “I’d love to,” she said.

“Which would you love to do?” There was an amused tone in his voice.

“Anything that takes me out of the house today.” There, she’d said it. At least with Tom she could always say exactly what she felt. “Maybe the café. Then we can talk.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he said. “So brush your hair and put on your happy face.”

She couldn’t help smiling. Tom had always said this, even when they were both teenagers, and that was a long time ago. He’d been her older brother’s best friend during their school years and had spent most of his free time at her house. He and Joseph had taught themselves guitar, played tennis and generally hung out together. She’d been fourteen when she met him and immediately fancied him, but Joseph had made it very plain that she wasn’t to become involved with any of his close friends. He’d also let his friends know that his sister was out of bounds. They’d respected that, valuing his friendship too much to risk losing it.

Instead she and Tom had developed a close friendship, one that had proved to be enduring. Whenever things went wrong in her life, he’d step in with an idea for cheering her up. That’s why she’d called him after last week’s break up with her boyfriend.

Tom was there in just over five minutes, and she had to laugh when she saw him in a bright green T-shirt with a big smiley face on the front.

“Let me whisk you away from your thoughts,” he said.

His car was a bit messy with an old newspaper across the back seat, and a few empty soft drinks cans. His golden retriever was fast asleep on the floor at her feet, taking up too much room. But as they drove off, Laura’s heart lifted. For the first time in a week, she felt that life could go on as normal again.

“We need to drop Benji off at my mother’s first,” he explained. “She’s been lonely since Dad died. Having Benji around on the weekends is a good distraction for her.”

Laura patted Benji’s thick honey-coloured fur. The only response she got was a soft snore. She thought quickly. “Would your mother like to come to the cafe with us?”

“No, she’s caught a bad cold and just needs to rest,” he said. “But it’s a good idea. Maybe another time?”

When they arrived, Tom’s mother was in a thick blue dressing gown, with puffy eyes and a red nose. Laura stood at the front door while he carried in Benji’s feeding bowl, dog biscuits and a large hessian bed.

“Lemon and honey drinks are good for a cold,” Laura said.

His mother coughed. “I’d best go inside. The air’s a bit chilly for me,” she said. “But it’s lovely to see you.”

Laura watched her face light up as Benji leapt out of the car and bounded over to lick her hand. “I think he’ll do your mother more good than any medicine,” she said, as they drove to the waterfront.

“Dogs are man’s best friend,” Tom said. “They’re always there when you need them.” There was a tone in his voice Laura couldn’t quite work out.

“I don’t need a dog when I’ve got you,” Laura said. “Dogs can’t give good advice.”

“Is that my role?” he said. “Being your agony aunt? Your talking dog?”

She nodded happily. “Yes. Always has been and always will be.”

They’d arrived at the waterfront cafe. As he pulled into a parking area, Tom turned to look at her. His honest blue eyes filled her with confidence and trust, as they’d always done.

Then I advise you to stop falling in love with the wrong guys.

“If only it was that easy.”

“I knew Andrew wasn’t right for you the first time I met him.”

His answer surprised her. “What made you think that?”

“There was no sparkle in your eyes.”

Laura looked out the front windscreen at the harbour, absorbing his words. “You’re right,” she said. “We had a lot in common but I knew in my heart he wasn’t the one.”

“Then why did you stay with him so long?” Tom said.

She shrugged. “I suppose I didn’t want to hurt him, and I didn’t want to admit to myself that I’d made a big mistake. Not listening to my own intuition.”

“There’s no easy way to break up with someone,” he said. “And look at you. You’ve been upset all week and yet you’re the one who called it off.”

The rain was running in rivulets down the windscreen, getting heavier. “We’d better go inside before this rain gets any heavier,” she said.

He walked around to her side of the car and held up a huge black umbrella for her. It felt nice to be protected.

She thought back to the moment that had caused her to finally break up with Andrew. It’d been a sunny morning and they’d decided to have a picnic in the countryside. They’d hardly spread out a blanket on the ground and opened the picnic basket when there’d been a sudden downpour. By the time they’d gathered everything together and rushed back to the car, the food was ruined. Laura had seen the funny side of the situation, and started to laugh, but he’d been moody about it. “I don’t know what you think’s so funny,” he’d said.

It was then she’d realised that a good sense of humour was essential. Andrew was always put out when things didn’t work out exactly how he wanted. She couldn’t spend her life with a man like that. Even if he’d changed his mind about wanting children.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a warm hand on her arm. “Penny for your thoughts,” Tom said. “You look a million miles away.”

She looked up at him. They’d reached the door of the cafe, and he was starting to fold up the umbrella. “Just remembering another rainy Saturday,” she said softly.

They sat by a window, although the view was mostly drowned by the rain, which had become even heavier.

On an impulse, she said, “Imagine having a picnic in this weather,” and she wondered what he would say.

His eyes lit up. “If you were with the right person, it might be fun,” he said. “Even romantic.”

The waitress brought over two espressos. As she stirred sugar into her coffee, Laura found herself wondering about Tom’s love life. He’d never once in all these years confided in her about it. It was always her, coming to see him when a relationship failed. Getting him to help her over the first hard weeks when she felt really flat and miserable. Not that she’d had many boyfriends. Before Andrew, there’d been a university student called Simon. They’d stayed together for five years while they both completed their degrees, but then he’d moved overseas and she’d realised her future lay here.

Before him she’d had a crush on her hairdresser, only to learn he was already married. And there’d been years when there was nobody special in her life.

“Have you ever felt you found the right person?” she asked. And when he didn’t immediately answer, she added.

You never really open up about your love life, and I’ve always been too preoccupied with my own problems to think much about yours.

A sad expression in his eyes made Laura wish she hadn’t asked the question. “I didn’t mean to pry,” she said. “You don’t have to answer.”

“I fell in love seven years ago,” he said. “But my feelings weren’t reciprocated.”

That certainly explained the sadness in his eyes.

“Did you ever tell her how you felt?” she asked.

He gave a rueful smile. “No. I didn’t even get around to asking her out,” he said. “I’d finally got the courage to ask her, and when I met her one day, she told me she’d fallen in love.”

“With somebody else?”

He nodded.

“Seven years is a long time to love somebody and get nothing in return,” she said. “Has there been anyone else?”

“Nobody serious. I’ve tried dating other women but I’ve always known she was the one for me.” He sipped his coffee, looking at the rain. “She just never realised it.”

They sat in silence. Laura felt a bit awkward. She hadn’t meant to upset him, by talking about his own relationships. Or lack of them.

A waitress at a nearby table asked if she could bring them anything else.

“Another coffee?” Laura suggested.

Tom nodded. His eyes had slightly misted over. “And I’ll have a large slice of chocolate layer cake, with cream and ice cream.”

“We’ll order two pieces of the cake,” she told the waitress.

As the girl left, she turned to Tom.

“I can’t see you eating that amazing chocolate cake and not have some myself. There’s a lot to be said for comfort food.”

As she’d expected, the crumbly chocolate sponge and rich chocolate icing melted on Laura’s tongue. She sighed contentedly.

“If you think she’s really the right one for you, then maybe it’s not too late?” she said.

He scooped some ice cream onto his spoon thoughtfully.

Sometimes I wonder if I should ask her out.

“Of course you should,” Laura said. “She can only say no. Would that be so terrible?”

Then something unexpected happened. Laura suddenly wished she hadn’t said anything. The implications of her suggestion confused her.

What if Tom asked this woman out and she said yes? What if his love was reciprocated? How would Laura feel then? She’d never had to consider this before. There’d never been a special someone in Tom’s life. She’d always felt he was her best friend, but if he had a girlfriend, everything would change between them. A girlfriend wouldn’t want him seeing Laura, would she? And he wouldn’t have as much spare time either. Their relationship would permanently change.

The thought of that made her uneasy.

Yet he’d looked so sad just now. He was just as entitled to fall in love as anyone else. And as his friend, Laura realised she needed to encourage him – even if it was making her realise that she herself might have feelings for him.

As he finished the cake, there was a half-smile on his lips. “I’m feeling more optimistic,” he said. “Maybe there’s hope for me after all?”

At his words, a small seed of envy was planted in Laura’s chest.

“You need to follow your heart,” she told him. “But I hope you’ll still have time to be my agony aunt.”

“Of course,” he said. “That goes without saying.”

“Maybe we could meet up after work now and again, go to a pub or something,” she said. “I’m finding it hard going home to an empty house.”

When he dropped her home again, he suggested that they meet up again the following week. She kissed his cheek as usual, gave him a quick hug and went inside.

Then she suddenly realised that she was wishing he’d taken up her suggestion of going for a drink one evening, and realising how she wanted more than a quick kiss and a hug from Tom. Much more…

It was too soon. What would he think of her? And why had she never realised this until now, when it was probably too late? How had she been so blind, taking him for granted?

Back at the waterfront cafe the following Saturday, Laura realised she hadn’t thought of her ex-boyfriend all week. Maybe she was already moving on? It had started when Tom had mentioned his own unrequited love. The more she asked him about this girl, the more it sounded as though there might still be hope for the two of them to get together.

“Is she with anyone else at the moment?” Laura asked. The sun was shining, and the blue harbour stretched to the horizon. The view from the cafe window was breath taking.

He shook his head. “No, she’s free.”

Laura bit her lip. As his friend, she needed to encourage him to ask this girl out, but she was beginning to wish that he wouldn’t.

She summoned up all her willpower. “I think you should ask her out. If you have feelings for her, you should do something about it.” There, she’d said it.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

She nodded. There’d been a catch in her voice. Had he noticed it? What would he think?

To her great surprise, he reached across the table and gently held her hand, raising it to his lips. He softly kissed her fingers. The tenderness of the gesture took her breath away.

“Would you like to come to dinner with me?” he asked.

It took a few moments for his words to sink in. Laura looked at him puzzled for a while.

Then a surge of happiness swept through her whole body. “Are you saying I’m the girl?” she whispered, barely able to meet his eyes.

“It’s always been you, Laura. You’re the only one for me.” His eyes rested on hers. “But could you ever feel that I’m the man for you?”

A tear welled up into Laura’s eyes. “I’d like to find out,” she said.

September 5 2023 issue
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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.