These are the stories.
They are not planned to be Novels, and don't fit into any previous category.
They are written to be read and enjoyed on their own.
It should have been a beautiful day. The sun was shining, there was a small breeze blowing across the flower beds and lake, and Regent's Park was looking wonderfully alive in the spring sunshine. But Dervla O'Rourke was not feeling a happy young woman. Not at all.
For a start, she couldn't enjoy the weather, the sun, the happy, laughing children playing prettily on the grass - because she was baby-sitting: she had two young children of her own to look after, and keep a watchful eye on. Not that they were her OWN, exactly; three-year old Justin and four-year old Claire belonged to her employer, the obnoxious Blair Hill. He may be the hottest publisher in London, she reflected ruefully, but he had to be the worst boss in the world. He didn't care anything for her, her feelings or her future. His kids were off school for Half Term and needed looking after? Okay, Dervla could do it. Just like she did everything else he ever wanted.
When some potential partners were due to arrive for a visit from Japan, Blair bought her a paintbrush and new stepladders and told her to paint the office. Other days - most days, actually - she ends up making the coffee for ordinary guests. It doesn't seem to matter to Blair that she is officially his 'Personal Assistant', or that the company is happy to pay her a generous salary to do important things - no, all he cares about is his comfort and convenience, and Dervla is his slave.
She was seething as she sat on the park bench, looking out to the lake and watching the two kids chasing butterflies. They were adorable, she had to agree, and maybe someday she's be lucky enough to have a couple of her own that were so bright and loveable. But that was a long way off. There was no one special in her life right now, and though she'd reached her early twenties with more than a few boyfriends in her wake, there was no relationship she could rremember that had lasted more than a year, or done anything to really touch her heart. She was still waiting for the right person. She hadn't found the prince, she was thinking, even though she'd kissed more than a few frogs.
"Hello," a voice said.
She nearly jumped out of her skin. A pleasant looking young man was hovering over her.
"You don't remember me, do you?" he asked politely.
She froze. Should she? Was he an author? A publisher from a rival firm?
Someone who worked in her building?
"I'm not surprised," he said agreeably. "We didn't go out for long."
I was just thinking about that, Dervla thought, but didn't say. Her mind was racing, but she couldn't come up with a name for the young man. He saw her confusion and decided to help her.
"Tom," he said. "I'm Tom. Better now? Remember?"
"The teacher?" she ventured.
He laughed, a cool, easy laugh, friendly. "Do you mind if I sit down?" he asked politely, and moved onto the bench next to her. "I was a student teacher when we met," he informed her. "It didn't last. Nothing much does. Oh, I qualified all right, and even found a job. But I wouldn't crawl, not the way you're supposed to. I had some ideas of my own about how schools should be organised. It was frowned on. I wasn't approved at the end of my year, didn't pass the probationary period."
He was rattling on, and still Dervla's memory was a blank. A teacher? Yes, that seemed right. But where could they have met? Dervla had gone to F.E. college and done some Business Administration modules before going into publishing. She had worked her way up slowly, moving on, getting more responsibility. Where would she have come across this person, especially if he was only a student?
She turned slightly, and decided to examine him more closely. He had fair hair, brushed to one side. He had a cheerful face, and was slim - no, she realised, that was deceptive. He was tall, and that made him appear slim, but he had nice, broad shoulders and moved easily, with a grace. He was very attractive, she realised. Now that was confusing! If he was so nice, how could she have let him get away?
He chattered on, telling her about his move into 'marketing'. It didn't last, nothing did; it seemed he had had many jobs over the years, none lasting long at all. Well, that was no good, Dervla decided; if ever there was the right man for her, then he'd have to be competent, solid, a good earner. A provider for her and the whole family. Oh, there I go again, she thought - thinking about children.
"And you?" he prompted.
She nervously talked about the last few years, promotion, enjoying publishing. She didn't know how much to say, how much he would know already. How far back did she have to go? When exactly did they meet?
"So you still going to the 'Barbarian'?" he asked with a grin.
The word made her blood run cold. 'The Barbarian' was a particularly seedy nightclub that she had gone to once or twice, a few times only, years ago, when she was friendly with a crowd from the office, the other department, not somewhere she was working now. They went out every Friday and got completely drunk. It was horrible. She'd made some excuses and stopped tagging along. It wasn't her scene, she told them; she was busy, she said; anything, in fact, to get out of going. She didn't like the place. The only reason people went, she realised, was to pick up members of the opposite sex. It was cheap, sordid, and never worked for her - except for that one time.... Oh no, she was thinking. Oh no, not him. She looked closer. Yes, it must be. It was the man she met that one night, that one time. They were together for so few hours!
How could he ever remember her?
"I go there sometimes," he was saying. "I always think of you."
Am I so memorable, she wondered? She tried to imagine herself through his eyes. She had an open, appealing face, and nice eyes, everyone told her that. She had a ready smile and an able wit; she thought fast on her feet, which was one reason she'd done so well in her job. Her hair was brown, neat, and sometimes looked better, especially when she put on a bit of henna. Her figure was trim, not overly buxom, and though it meant she found it easy to shop - everything seemed to fit her! - she wasn't the sort of woman who stole glances the minute she walked into the room. It took a while to get to know her, that's what she always told people.
That's what surprised her most of all: this man was saying the complete opposite! He was telling her he'd only known her a short time and yet she seemed to have made a lasting impression. It was most odd!
But he hadn't seen her at all since then, surely? She racked her brains again, but it was completely blank. She couldn't remember seeing him at all since - well, since that one time. And then - her toes curled in embarrassment. The memory of that dreadful night was starting to come back to her. She'd gone to his flat -
"You like the park?"
"Sorry?" she had to ask. She wasn't concentrating on what he was saying.
He repeated: "I come here quite a lot, just to walk, to admire the ducks, feed the children...."
"Yes, okay, that's wrong," he admitted. "Feed the ducks and admire the children."
"What do you mean 'admire'?" she asked cagily.
"Oh, I pick out ones that I wouldn't mind calling my own. Sometimes I like to think they're mine, and I imagine what I might say, how I might play with them. One day."
For once, Dervla was quite speechless. She was so astonished, her normally snappy conversation had deserted her. A man who looked forward to having kids of his own? It was unheard of! (In her life.)
"Don't you agree?" he asked her quietly. "It can be so wonderful to have a family, can't it?"
She nodded slowly, unsure what to say. A small voice interrupted her.
"Ice cream! Daddy said we could have ice cream!"
She looked down. It was Justin, making the request, but his sister stood eagerly behind him, waiting. Yes, it was true, Dervla had to admit. Blair - their daddy - had given her a ten pound note and told her to buy them icecream. 'Perhaps you can go on the open top bus, later,' he suggested. He was good at suggesting things, especially when he didn't have to do them himself.
Tom was looking delighted, beaming at the children happily.
"Yours?" he said. "Oh, but I didn't realise -"
Dervla tried to disallusion him.
"I'm in charge this afternoon -" she admitted.
Tom was smiling at her, indulgently. "Of course. You have to take it in turns," he said, trying to look understanding.
"Look, you don't know their father -" Dervla snapped.
"No, but maybe one day I'd like to think I might have the opportunity," he said.
Dervla was shocked. She hardly knew him. And he hardly knew her! Here he was, presuming on their brief association of so many years ago, and making gross assumptions about her life now. He seemed so be convinced that she was married, with two kids and their 'daddy' somewhere.... It was simply too much. She was insulted.
She bounced to her feet and grabbed the kids' hands.
"We have to go," she announced.
"Of course, of course," he said quickly, giving his 'understanding' look again. "Ice cream calls."
"No," she said, quickly. That wasn't it at all. Well, maybe. "Maybe," she told him. "Maybe, ice cream. But then we have to get back to the office." There were all sorts of things to do.
"Oh, yes, office work," he said, and his voice grew whistful. "I worked in an office once, but it didn't last. Still, kept me busy. Accounts department. Very hectic, mainly at the beginning of the month. I never did find out what they made, but busy - "
"Busy? You should try publishing," Dervla snapped.
"Yes," he said softly. "Maybe I should."
She shot him a glance, but he was looking away, over the lake and beyond to the trees. For one moment she had the thought that he would follow her back to the office, but that was ridiculous: she was leaving, and he would stay here. She had work to do, and he had no work. Still, if he was looking... Well, it was true that there were jobs going at the moment, she had seen a letter pinned up on the noticeboard. Strangely enough, it was in the Accounts Departent, she thought. But she wouldn't say, she decided. He had come into her life, briefly, all those years ago, and now they had met, for a short time, quite by chance, and that was it.
"Maybe in another five years," she said to him jovially, and held out her hand for him to shake. He did so, lingering over the touch.
"Oh, I hope so," he said slowly. "Maybe that time you'll remember me sooner."
For some reason, she found that remark quite creepy. It sounded out of character for him too, like he was some sort of stalker, or wierd person. But he wasn't, she could see that. He was nice, quite nice, and in a way it was sad that they had to part again.
But they would, she decided. It had been a nice chat, but that was that. Over. And she didn't want to be reminded of her mistake, that time, that first time they met. It was awful. She didn't want to see that draffed up and raked over. It didn't show her in a very good light; it was not something she'd care to bring up in conversation, and she didn't need Tom around to remind her, let alone run the possibility of coming into contact with someone she knew. 'Who's that?' they might say, and 'Where did you meet?' It was her secret, she made up her mind on that point. A sordid secret, if the truth was known, and the less said about it the better.She turned her back.
"Come on, kids," she said firmly. "Say goodbye to the man."
We won't ever see him again, she was thinking.
Unfortunately, she was wrong.
(To be continued)